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Saturday, June 25, 2011

"Old School"

A quick note to all the BookWyrms out there:  Just so you know, I do intend to talk about newer books one of these days.  I know there are many, many good ones out there!  For right now, though, I'm sticking to my childhood favorites. :) 

Also, to any male BookWyrms reading this... I will try my best to include books with boys as main characters in the future.  As for now, what can I say?  When I was a little girl, I liked reading about other little girls!

One genre that I've always enjoyed is historical fiction.  I love hearing about how the world worked "in the olden days", and trying to imagine myself living during those times. 

(On a related note, one of the things I liked best as a young girl was to play "school" -- much to my little sister's dismay.  But I always wanted it to be "old-fashioned school", set in a little one-room schoolhouse on the prairie.  My grandma, who had been a real teacher, gave me several old primers and also a clanging hand bell, so that I could call my pupils to school. :) )

Some of the books listed below were not considered historical fiction when they were written, but contemporary fiction.  Now, over a century later, I think it's safe to say they are historical!

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868...  This story takes place in New England, during the 1860's and the Civil War.  It describes the life of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, whose father is a chaplain in the Union Army. 

Not surprisingly, my favorite character was always Jo, the independent tomboy who loves to read and write.  I also loved (and identified with) Beth, who is quiet and shy.
I couldn't find my copy of this book
(I know it's around here somewhere!),
so I took a photo of this one at the library.

Even more than Little Women, however, I liked Little Men.  Also by Louisa May Alcott (1871), this book continues the story of Jo, who has married, borne two sons, and now runs a boys' school.  I liked hearing about the mischievous boys and the ways Jo and her husband manage them. 

There is also a third book in the series, Jo's Boys, but I don't remember enjoying it as much as the other two.

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney, 1881... This story, presumably set in the latter 1800's, is about a widow, Mamsie, and her five children -- Ben, Polly, Joel, Davie, and Phronsie. 

The impoverished family, living in their "Little Brown House", always seems to make the best of their situation.  I admired the way they appreciated the few things they did have, and how the family members treasured each other so.  My favorite character was Polly, the eldest daughter.

Sidney later wrote 11 more books about the Peppers.  I remember reading a few of them, but always preferred this first one. 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, 1908... This book takes place on Canada's Prince Edward Island in the 1870's.  I know I'm not the only girl who grew up loving Anne (with an "e"), the imaginative, smart, and lively orphan who comes to live at Green Gables!  I also enjoyed the continuation of the girl's tale in Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island.  There are six other books about Anne's life which I have not yet read.

While I enjoyed each of the books listed above, the historical novels that I loved best as a young girl were about life on the prairie.  The following are stories that I read over and over again, dozens of times!

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink, 1936...  Partially based on the life of Brink's grandmother, this story is set in Wisconsin, during the 1860's.  Caddie is a brave, independent young girl who "runs wild" with her brothers and makes friends with Native Americans ~ I loved reading about her adventures!
I couldn't find my copy of this one, either.

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932 to 1943...  I was introduced to these stories when I was six, with the premiere of the television show, "Little House on the Prairie".  Our whole family would gather every week, to watch the latest episodes.  (Later on, my mom, my sister, and I would watch the reruns every day after school!) 

I was probably about eight when I received the entire set of books as an Easter gift:
  • Little House in the Big Woods
  • Farmer Boy,
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake
  • The Long Winter
  • Little Town on the Prairie, and
  • These Happy Golden Years

The books chronicle the life of the Ingalls family (Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace) starting in 1870 or so, as they moved from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota, and, finally, to South Dakota.  The stories are partially based on the author's life, and the main character is Laura herself.  (The exception is Farmer Boy, which takes place in New York, and is based on the life of Wilder's husband, Almanzo.) 

I loved all 8 books, but my favorite was probably On the Banks of Plum Creek. In that one, the family lives in a little "dugout" home (and a cow gets stuck in their roof!).  It is also the part in the story where Laura and Mary begin school and meet that meanie, Nellie Oleson....

One last "life on the prairie" book that I loved as a young girl is one that's not nearly as well known as the books above:  The Children Who Stayed Alone by Bonnie Bess Worline, 1956. 

This story is about the Dawson family -- including Phoebe, Hartley, Tessie, Martha, Robbie, David, and Mary Ann.  Father has left for supplies, and then Mother goes to help a sick neighbor.  Phoebe is left in charge of the others for a few days... and then a blizzard strikes!  I remember being amazed by Phoebe's hard work and resourcefulness as she takes care of her siblings.

I'd love to hear from you other BookWyrms!  Have you read any of these books?  What did you think of them?  What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?

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