Saturday, December 20, 2014

What We're Reading: A Little Princess

Whenever I talk to my mom about how I read books to the kids, she is impressed by how much they enjoy being read to, and that they will stay still and listen for so long.  I guess I've taken it for granted that she read to me when I was little, and now I read to my own kids.  It's fun!  When I think about it I do realize that this quiet activity we share together really is a special thing, and it's not always easy to make it a priority.  As they get older and life gets more hectic, this may not happen as much.  But for now we do have the time and my kids still like my company (amazing!), so I'll just be grateful for as long as that lasts.  At bedtime, not every night but as long as we have a book and it's not too late, I sit on one of their beds and Annie plays with my hair while we all get lost in a good story.  Delaney always busies herself with something while she listens, and sometimes that something is another book.  But she always asks questions that reveal she's been hanging on every word.  Timmy plays with toys and sometimes makes a nuisance of himself, but he never wants to miss out on story time.
Right now the book is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I read this book a long time ago myself.  My 5th grade teacher gave it to me for Christmas.  (I also read A Secret Garden by the same author -- that book was gifted to me by two different relatives in the same year.)  A few weeks ago I happened to see it on a shelf at the library and grab it.  We've been working our way through it off and on, and I've had to renew it once and probably will one more time.  We started off a little slow with it but as we get closer to the end it is harder to stop and I've been reading two or even three of the longwinded chapters at a time until my voice starts to go hoarse.

I had long forgotten how the rest of the story goes beyond the beginning: Little Sara Crewe's father takes her from India to the boarding school in London; she is fabulously wealthy and treated like a princess; then he dies after making a bad investment and leaves her penniless.  Now I get to enjoy the entire rest of the story along them as if it's the first time.  I can't wait to see the ending but I don't want it to be over!

Reading this again as an adult, here are some of my impressions:

The vocabulary is hard.  In the beginning there are several French words and phrases that I felt like an idiot trying to say, that had me wishing I could have spared maybe just one of the five years of Latin I took in junior high and high school, just to learn a little bit of French and how to pronounce things.

As far as the English goes, there are lots of very quaint-sounding descriptions, and words that I don't recognize.  We rely heavily on context to figure out what is what, for example a "brougham."  (It's a carriage.)  Many times Delaney asks me, "What's that?"  and I can only give her my best guess.  When I say "quaint" descriptions, a good example of that is the frequent use of the word "queer" to mean "strange", frequently used to describe Sara who is not like any of the other girls.

One of Sara's friends speaks Cockney English and it's not too hard for me to decipher since I'm reading it and not hearing it, but Delaney usually needs me to say it again in a way she can understand.  I want to see the movie so I can hear Becky talk.

This book might not have made much of an impression on me when I was Sara's age myself, but  I love this strong, courageous little heroine.  When her beloved father loses his fortune and dies, she is left alone and at the mercy of the horrible Miss Minchin.  Angry at being burdened by the child, she takes away every single thing she has and works her to the bone.  Of all the servants, she is the lowest, and endures abuses from all of them who enjoy tormenting the former "prize pupil" of the seminary.  She is sent out into the harsh London winter with holes in her shoes, and she is often made to go hungry.

If any one of these things happened to any ordinary person, it would be enough to drive them to despair and even madness.  But Sara, a keenly intelligent child with a vivid imagination, has always seen herself as a princess -- one who is noble, kind and generous.  And she is determined even more so to be a princess even in the worst of times.  The things that happen to her and the way she reacts to them have me almost in tears as I read.  Would that I could even have an ounce of her fortitude and selflessness in my character!

Right now we're watching Elf until it ends at 8, and we'll read one more chapter afterward -- just one.

Since we're having a quiet Christmas here in SC, and two weeks of no school, I foresee us finishing this book in the next couple of nights and looking for something else to read.  I'm thinking maybe The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be a good one for winter.


  1. I have never read that book but we used to watch the movie over and over and over again, so good. Do you always do the reading or do you take turns with Delaney?

    1. I've never seen it once! We have to now! I read almost all of it, but every now and then she reads. I think it's the perfect way to wind down before bed, listening to a good story.

      I miss you! Can't wait to see you in April!

  2. I feel inspired, I just ordered in some books to read with Miles.
    Miss you too, I hope this winter flies by!