I feel like I should probably just make a blanket statement that the vast majority of the books on my bookshelf are ones that I adore. I’ll try to keep the raptures to a minimum though.
A Little Princess was the first chapter book that I ever read by myself (at least that I remember), and I still love it. Not only is the writing brilliant, but the themes are amazing.
If you’re not familiar with the book, it tells the story of Sara Crewe. Her mother dies at a young age, so she’s raised by her father in India. He’s a captain in the British army. At age seven, he takes her to a boarding in school in England–Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, run by Miss Minchin and her sister, Miss Amelia. She’s the star pupil there–being a girl who loves to learn and being an heiress–so Miss Minchin treats her well. Sara befriends a couple of the school outcasts, including the school maid. She has quite an imagination, so she makes up stories which she then tells to the other pupils. She also uses her imagination to make history come alive for Ermengarde, one of the outcasts that she is friends with. She also uses her imagination to pretend that she’s a princess, and she tries to act like she believes a good princess would. Things are good for her–other than the fact that she desperately misses her father.
And then one day everything falls apart. Her father’s best friend convinced him to invest in diamond mines and then ran away–leaving her father penniless. Her father had been sick at the time and the news was the final blow. He dies, believing that he and his darling daughter are ruined.
When Miss Minchin hears the news, she’s furious. She’s never particularly liked Sara for various reasons and has made a significant outlay of cash for Sara’s special maid and Sara’s birthday party, etc., etc. So, she responds by giving Sara the “kindness” of making her a maid. She takes everything Sara owns other than a single outfit and the doll her father bought her to try to pay off some of her debts. She moves Sara into the attic where there’s no heat. Sara is worked to the bone and miserable and hungry most of the time.
Sara responds by using her imagination to pretend that she’s a prisoner in the Bastille or other similar situations. Throughout it all, she continues to try to treat others like she’s a princess. For instance, one day when she’s starving, she finds a fourpenny. She goes into a bakery to buy herself something to eat (six buns), but instead of eating all of them, she gives five of them away to a beggar girl who appears to be hungrier than her because every good princess should give largesse to the populace.
In the end, it turns out that the diamond mines weren’t a failure, and Sara is given someone to love and be loved by and returned to her former richness. But she’s been tested and tried.
I love how this story talks about perspective. Sara is able to turn the most awful circumstances into an adventure merely because she chooses that perspective. It’s a lesson that I have tried to apply to my own life since I read this book. We all have a choice. We can choose if we’re going to be kind to others or not. We can choose to sacrifice for others or not. It’s all based on what kind of people we want to be and how we see our circumstances. Because Sara wanted to be like a princess, she chooses to be kind and sacrificial even when her circumstances are brutal.