“”Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.” — Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
I was observing my son’s class one day and noticed a copy of Little Women tucked into the cubby under a desk a few rows ahead. I was in a classroom for a 5th grade class–and was surprised and impressed that a 5th grader would be reading Little Women in this day and age of Wimpy Kid books (not that I am dissing them) or the Twilight series (ditto). Then again, I may have been about that age when I first read it myself. And I loved it then, as I really enjoyed it now.
I read the Penguin Threads edition of Little Women. If you haven’t seen these editions and you are interested in hand needlework, illustration, or both, you really must check them out. There are six books published in Penguin Threads (Little Women, Emma, Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, and The Wizard of Oz) and the cover of each volume is a hand embroidery piece beautifully reproduced with light embossing. When you open the covers, you can see the backside of the work (for better or worse–I was a bit horrified by the back of the Little Women embroidery. Messy!). I first learned of these books by seeing the work of Jillian Tamaki who did the illustrations for Emma, The Secret Garden and Black Beauty. They are absolutely amazing embroideries, and I was inspired to collect and read all the volumes. I stuck them all on my Amazon wish list and my father sent me Little Women for Christmas. I think he had given me my first copy of Little Women as well, a beautifully illustrated hardback (where did it go?). It seemed full circle and time to read it again.
In the back of my head, I was reluctant to reread Little Women because I remembered it generally as being “old fashioned”. I suspected this had to do with language, heavy Christian morality, and a conservative portrayal of women in society. I have very little patience with any of these days. But I was first surprised at how fresh and readable the language is in Little Women. It doesn’t read as an “old” book language-wise. I began to understand more why the book could still appeal to a 5th grader today.
To be sure, there are themes and topics that seem old-fashioned by today’s standards. How many young girls read Pilgrim’s Progress and try to model their behavior accordingly? But the overarching theme, of young people developing awareness and self-management skills of their own worst behaviors, struck me as a valuable one to explore. In some ways, the characters model the self-help topics of their day: Jo– her temper and impulsiveness (and Marmie), Meg– her vanity, and Amy — her snobbishness and selfishness. Each character had to deal with her behavior and its consequences. Each one overcame her fault as she matured, even if not perfectly (because who of us is perfect?). Perhaps we don’t recognize the same qualities as character flaws today, but it does seem a valuable lesson for children to see a character struggle and strive to overcome.
I really enjoyed reading Little Women again as an adult well into middle age and would recommend it for any age.