Small Girl, Big Dreams

This Is Ruby – written by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Alea Marley
Tundra Books, 2021

The fact that girls can do anything used to be rarely acknowledged in children’s books, but now multitalented girls with big dreams are often at the center of their storiesThis Is Ruby stands out in the super girls genre because it speaks to children rather than to adults who have high aspirations for their daughters.  (link to other books by Sara O’Leary if I have blogs on them, and maybe to I Will Be Fierce.). Ruby is confident, lovable, and still too young to specialize. She might become an astronaut, an engineer, or a doctor, but she has dreams outside of STEM fields, too.  Like all children, she’s on a voyage to an unknown destination.

Ruby’s unaffected greeting from behind a red door introduces her to young readers as a peer.  She’s imaginative and kinetic, and she has a big, friendly dog who helps her by being a patient when she explores medicine as a career. Knowing how things work is key to success in any chosen field; Ruby shows initiative and a valuable sense of perspective in examining the nuts and bolts, as well as gears and faces, of important objects. One key line of Sara O’Leary’s accessible text summarizes Ruby’s approach to life: “Ruby knows that there is always another way to see the world.” Fantasy and imagination are also central to Ruby’s experiments. After all, reading books about dinosaurs is essential to becoming a paleontologist, but make-believe time travel is another avenue of research for a young child. (image).  As O’Leary helpfully points out, “Ruby decides to go back to see what the dinosaurs really looked like.” The use of “decide” captures the. purposeful nature of this little girl’s pursuits.

Visually, Ruby is totally delightful. With her beautiful dark curls almost overwhelming her petite frame, and her practical fashion choice of striped sailor shirt and comfortable pants, she always looks ready for fun.  Cooking up “a potion that tastes like clouds,” is a mix of culinary and supernatural arts. Her star earrings and round-as-planet glasses ensure that she is geared up for any possibility. If parents are looking for a book that emphasizes only academic readiness to ensure a successful future, this is not it. Instead, O’Leary and Alea Marley convey on every page that learning for young children cannot be neatly separated from flights of imaginative fancy.

Marley’s use of color in This is Ruby is attuned to the way in which children view the world.  Whether building herself a town made of brown boxes, green trees, and dinosaurs of different hues, or playing under a rainbow-colored sky at the beach,  Ruby is immersed light and bright shades, sometimes arranged in kaleidoscopic sequences.  The pages of this book are so inviting, and children will respond to Ruby’s acknowledgement that “…she will always find something new to make, and that she can be whatever she wants to be.” 

More About New Little Women

Littler Women: A Modern Retelling – by Laura Schaefer
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017

I’m continuing my series of Little Women retellings, re-imaginings, and fan fictions, with a book which initially raised doubts in my mind, but which completely won me over.  Laura Schaefer’s modest premise is an updated version of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, with younger main characters.  Like the original book, Littler Women tales place in a town outside of Boston, and the March sisters’ father is serving in the military.  It is not the era of the Civil War, but an unspecified contemporary setting.  Kirkus Reviews was largely positive, but posed the question of the book’s purpose: why should readers need this book when they can read the Alcott classic? For some reason Kirkus did not raise the same question about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo but, in any event,  Schaefer’s book is aimed at younger readers than Little Women.  One hopes they will go on to read the original, but that book is sadly more read about than read. Its length, vocabulary, and antique cultural references make it seem obsolete to many less motivated readers, especially if they are not actively encouraged by parents and educators. 

In Schaefer’s book, the sisters range in age from nine to thirteen.  Their personalities are quite similar to Alcott’s heroines, and the situations which they confront are also rooted in the original novel.  Schaefer has not merely imitated, however, but rather transposed the girls from an earlier time, allowing their qualities and their life circumstances to develop naturally in the twenty-first century.  Readers will find it easy to empathize with them, and will wonder about a potential romance between Laurie and Jo just as Alcott’s original readers did. Each girl is uniquely gifted, and sometimes their priorities clash.  Their mother is a center of strength, just like Marmee, but far less acquiescent to the gender roles that ruled in the nineteenth century.  Yet she is still the same role model,  teaching the girls how to manage their anger, avoid pointless envy of those with more material goods, and cultivate patience.

A truly inventive part of the book is Schaefer’s inclusion of recipes, craft projects, and selections from the letters and March family publications.  Each chapter begins with a quote from a beloved author, and the book ends with “Jo’s Book List” and an author’s note.  The details in these extra features are quite impressive, indicating that the author expects readers to slow their pace and pay close attention, whether to a recipe for “Potato Salad Even Jo Could Love,” or “Mr. Lawrence’s Scarf Pattern.”  There’s a sense of dignity and compassion underlying this story of the March girls, made accessible for younger readers without talking down to them.  I hope that Laura Schaefer will consider writing more about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

Turning No to Yes

No! Said Rabbit – written and illustrated by Marjoke Henrichs
Peachtree Publishing, 2021

This is a lovely and unpretentious book about the reflexive response of toddlers, “No,” when asked to do almost anything.  There is no irony or sly humor; instead, Marjoke Henrichs succeeds in conveying the emotions of the young rabbit and the patience of his mother at the same time. The pictures, “created with wooden stick, ink, gouache, and colored pencil,” are perfect for expressing the rabbit’s world and his world view.  The design of each page reflects careful attention to a young child’s attention span and to the types of objects and their placement which she would find appealing.  Even the pictures themselves are closely enough related to a child’s artwork that their deceptive simplicity goes almost unnoticed.  From beginning to end, No! Said Rabbit performs beautifully.

Rabbit’s room has all the basic necessities of toddler life: blocks, pull-toys, a ball, a clothes rack with striped tee shirts, and a blanket large enough to trail off the bed and onto the floor. His mother’s cheerful reminder that it is time to get dressed earns a “NO!” in large font.  Rabbit’s thoughts are in a different font, in lighter gray and with almost-cursive elements. He walks past his tempting breakfast, although he is clearly interested: “But I can see juicy orange carrots…” Every action meets a reaction, and every one of his mother’s statements meets a compromise between outright defiance and half-compliance.  Why would he want to go outside when so many toys tumble out of a box, but, then again, there would be advantages to an outdoor trip: “But those are lovely rain boots.”

Children will be eager to hear the next page, and excited by a full-page list of text bubbles, each containing another suggestion and another refusal.  Here Rabbit’s face is smudged with swatches of dark crayon, as if an angry toddler had actually drawn across it. When he finally gets into his bath, this issue is resolved, and the book’s dénouement begins. He will definitely not say “no” to a hug from his mother.  Bedtime is another story…Reading and rereading this book with children could become a cyclical event and a satisfying one. The little rabbit gets to negate every rule while finding convenient reasons to do what is actually best for him. The mother doesn’t get angry. Each compromise activity is a lot of fun.  Finally, in a moment which as most caregivers will recognize, he is just too tired to resist sleep.  Time to start the book again.

Being a Twin and Dealing with a Bully

Mitch and Amy – written by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Tracy Dockray
HarperCollins, 2000, reprint of original edition, 1972

Beverly Cleary (1916-2021), was the mother of boy and girl twins. How much of that experience is reflected in her novel Mitch and Amy, about twins who are very different in spite of the strong bond they share, is hard to know.  However, the book radiates empathy for the experience of having one sibling of the same age.  Mitch and Amy Huff fight over many typical sources of conflict. Mitch bothers Amy and her friends, they playfully belittle each other in ways that can cross the line from funny to hurtful, and their strengths and weaknesses are complementary.  Mitch struggles with reading, while Amy finds learning arithmetic to be a torment. The intervening years between the novel’s first appearance and now have done little to date these problems. 

The twins also need to support one another through attacks by a classic bully. Alan Hibbler is cruel and aggressive. He destroys the skateboard which Mitch built for himself, and steals cupcakes meant for Amy’s Girl Scout troop.  A key part of Alan’s identity is that is father is a world-famous professor at the University. (The book takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area.) Most of the other kids in the book, including Mitch and Amy Huff, have less illustrious parents.  Only at the end are readers asked to connect the dots, when Mitch and Amy realize that constant comparisons to his intellectually gifted father, especially for a boy who finds reading difficult, may have influenced the development of his personality.

There are numerous references to the distractions of television.  Far from being irrelevant, they could easily be compared today to the much more pervasive effect of other media.  Cleary is never heavy-handed, and she is often funny, as in this wry description of mid-century TV programming:

          …he watched a nursery-school program, which was followed by an exercise program,
          a man interviewing some famous but boring people, and several old comedies.  Amy
          perched on the foot of his bed to watch the comedies, and just at a funny part, where
          a curly-haired woman was trying on a pair of skis in her living room and was knocking
          over all the lamps, Mr. Huff walked into the bedroom with the three library books…

There is a delightful subplot about one of Amy’s friends, Bernadette, whose family life is utterly unlike Mitch and Amy’s.  Bernadette has many brothers and lives in a gloriously messy and chaotic home.  Her mother is attending classes at the university, because she had not finished her degree before marrying and raising a large family. Her stated goal is to find an interesting job when she graduates.  As in the Ramona series, the author quietly supports the idea that mothers have a right to both contribute to the family income and find jobs as satisfying as those of their husbands. 

As for Alan the bully, Mitch and Amy try to avoid him, outwit him, and, in Mitch’s case, fight him. Finally, Bernadette is ready to deliver the ultimate humiliation to Alan of also engaging him in a physical fight.  When Mitch and Amy realize how pathetic Alan’s aggressiveness actually is, there is not facile transformation of this obnoxious child into their friend. Instead, the novel concludes with the twins recognizing that Alan’s glory days of bullying are probably behind him, and that they are glad to have one another.  Adults who read this book as children should return to it, and share it with kids.  There’s so much to appreciate and discuss in this one example of Beverly Cleary’s legacy.

Beverly Cleary (1916-2021)

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Beverly Cleary’s work on both her generations of readers and on authors of children’s books. I named my blog after an incident in the life of Ramona, perhaps her most beloved creation. But everyone has a favorite Cleary category, and a different perspective on exactly what was unique about her work.  There is her utter lack of condescension towards children, her outstanding empathy, her understatement, her crystal-clear language with no extraneous words.

After I learned of her death, I reread Ellen Tebbits, her second book (1951). Ellen is a bit more concerned with conformity than Ramona, a little less bold.  Today, I read a wonderful article in The Atlantic Monthly by Sophie Gilbert, about the role of childhood humiliation in Cleary’s work, and she referred to Ellen Tebbits’ almost crushing embarrassment when she attempts to pull a really dirty and huge radish up by its roots and arrives to school looking like a mess. She also discusses the dreaded woolen underwear which Ellen’s mother believes to be protective against cold weather, and comments that, when she read the book as a child, she didn’t even know what woolen underwear was. But it didn’t matter; it was Cleary’s ability to convey Ellen’s anguish that drew readers into the story.

That sums of the reason why Cleary’s work is not dated and never will be.  Her characters are specific young people, as well as adults, whose personalities, mistakes, and successes are completely individual as well as universal. That’s why she was a great writer.  Please read her books with the children in your life, or just to remind yourself what great writers do.

(My recommendations include: Ramona the Brave; Beezus and Ramona; Emily’s Runaway Imagination; and even the “Malt Shop” book Jean and Johnny. As you peruse these suggestions, you will note that Beverly Clearly worked with a number of top illustrators, but especially Beth and Joe Krush (born 1918!)

Return to Juniper Hollow

Mr. Mole Moves In – written and illustrated by Lesley-Anne Green
Tundra Books, 2021

In the first book of this imaginative series, Fox and Raccoon, readers met the handcrafted felt creatures who live in Juniper Hollow, a small community where animals help each other through everyday problems.  Here, the main issue is how to help a new friend who definitely needs glasses, without causing him embarrassment or hurt feelings. Mr. Mole is eager to get acquainted with the residents of Juniper Hollow and the feeling is mutual. But when he hands out erasers instead of candy to bunnies in the General Store, and mistakes the watermelon which Giraffe is holding for a baby, you know it’s time for an intervention.

Take a look at the General Store! There are glass jars full of colorful items, clay pottery, and balls of yarn. There are the proverbial “cans of worms,” which, in this case, Mr. Mole mistakenly purchases for his dinner. The very nature of these illustrations is reflected in the images, plot, and carefully chosen words.  Juniper Hollow is a gentle environment, without raucous adventures.  The animals seem both physically real and emotionally believable, wearing beautiful hand knit sweaters and with subtle expressions on their felt faces.  Reading this book with a child can be a slow and thoughtful event, taking the time to share the possibilities on every page.

When Rabbit first meets Mr. Mole in the store, she is sensitive to his problem, especially since one of her children who received the inedible erasers is nearsighted.  The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you, or someone you know, has one, and the practical Juniper Hollow residents clearly understand this. The last thing they want to do is upset their neighbor, especially since his inability to distinguish fishing bait from pasta renders him vulnerable.  “The critters all agreed and put their heads together to come up with something.” Readers watch the solution unfold from Mr. Mole’s perspective, as he peers out the window of his house, obviously put off by the sight of a crowd: “As they approached, they could see Mr. Mole peeking out from behind the curtains. They were surprised to find that he looked a little scared.” Of course he does. While the critters seem friendly, he hardly knows them. What’s going on?

To set him at ease, the animals bring a welcome basket, because this is a town where considerate behavior is part of their charter.  The myopic bunny approaches Mr. Mole with a pair of much-needed glasses, and he is overwhelmingly relieved. It seems that he lost his in the move. The ending raises a few questions to discuss with children.  If he lost his glasses, he clearly knew that he needed them.  His surprise at the contents of the basket, which include some of the things which he had visually confused with other objects, also suggests that Mr. Mole is a bit quirky. He is the only resident wearing a bow tie, so maybe he’s a professor, better at decoding books than animal behavior.  But one thing is for sure, acceptance is essential to getting along with others; Mr. Mole Moves In makes this as clear as a view of the world when you put on a new pair of glasses.

Joan Walsh Anglund, 1926-2021

Look Out the Window – written and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959

Joan Walsh Anglund has died at the age of ninety-five. She has been widely known and read for more than sixty years, as the author of many children’s books, some of which inspired cards, dolls, and other products. Perhaps her best- known books are A Friend is Someone Who Likes You and Love is a Special Way of Feeling. The sentiments expressed in her works are simple, easy to understand, and easy to characterize as overly sweet, even cloying.  I would disagree with that evaluation. My favorite one of her books as a child was Look Out the Window, a book whose message can be boiled down to the following: each child and each person is unique.  Simple it may be, but there are still numerous children’s books dedicated to reassuring readers of the same basic idea.

Anglund was both an author and illustrator. Her children have wide faces; two black dots for eyes are generally their only feature. Everything else in the pictures is highly detailed, including the characters’ limbs, hands, clothes, and all the objects surrounding them. Most of the settings are rural and idealized, but the core of the text may be applied to children living anywhere.  The book begins, “Look out the window…/What do you see?”  A girl in a sailor suit, which I certainly never wore or saw any of my peers wear, kneels on a window seat and looks outwards. We see her from the back. There is an open book next to her, a box of crayons on the windowsill, a doll in a rocking chair, and a cupcake and plate on the floor.  Many of the pictures have a static quality. In fact, even when the children are playing, there is a sense of quiet and stillness, which drew me to the books.

Every item or person in a child’s life is uniquely suited to her: cats, dogs, houses, people, parents.  Two people who are not like anyone else are “your very own mommie and daddy.” Yes, I know that even in 1959 there were children who did not have two parents.  But there they are, sitting with their child in a rowboat, fishing, an activity in which I never, ever, engaged, and neither did my parents. Nonetheless, the picture seemed convincing to me. In fact, it was quite low-key, compared to other more modern picture books which pointedly remind children how wonderful and special they are.  Here we just learn that no one else is “quite like” one’s parents.

The words do not rhyme but they have rhythm: “children planting seeds…/or sailing boats…/or selling lemonade…/or chasing cats…/or even children sitting very still.” The last activity shows a girl with her hair in a braid sitting on a stool, holding a single flower. Contemporary books might suggest she is meditating, but not here! She’s just a quiet person, who doesn’t choose to engage in the previously mentioned fun activities, which is fine. No purposeful exercise of mindfulness required.

I hope that children will still enjoy this book, and the rest of Anglund’s work.  Love is a special way of thinking, a friend is someone who likes you,  and looking out the window is a subjective and rewarding way of viewing a child’s particular world.

For Young Janeites

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice – written by Jasmine A. Stirling, illustrated by Vesper Stamped
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021

What better way could there be to introduce children to Jane Austen, the creator of Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Emma Woodhouse, than by using her own words?  The answer might be Jasmine A. Stirling and Vesper Stamper’s heartfelt and insightful homage to the author who embodies female intelligence and wit? Austen’s words provide the central structure of this picture book biography, but Stirling has woven them into explanations of the novelist’s life which are simply stated but not simplistic.  Stamper’s lovely pictures combine accurate period detail and individually expressive faces on the people in Austen’s life.  The book focuses on one specific question about Austen’s genius: how did one woman of modest means and enormous talent manage to defy social expectations and discover her voice.  

Authors of picture book biographies face a challenge: how to interest children and make the subject of the book relevant if her connection to their lives is not obvious.   A Most Clever Girl approaches Austen as someone who “…loved stories —-long ones, short ones, worn and new.”  She is the image of a child excited by reading, lugging a tall pile of girls into a room already overwhelmed with volumes.  A teacup resting on another stack of books, one open, suggests that Jane’s love of the written word is inseparable from the rest of her daily life. Pointless stories governed by artificial, and sexist, convention are not for her.  Jane’s busy family life in the Steventon rectory is the opposite of fainting couches and gothic drama. Instead, her parents and siblings worked hard, entertained and educated, and loved literature.

Stamper’s cutaway view of the Austen household captures the level of activity, with piano playing, reading by the fire, and children climbing and jumping in defiance of routine.  One woman reads from a sheaf of papers, so engaged that she is unaware an ink bottle dripping its contents onto the carpet. Throughout the book, Stirling integrates quotes from Austen into the text, with Stamper’s pictures as the perfect visual accompaniment.  Sitting barefoot with papers and a quill pen on her lap, Jane writes in the study which her understanding father has provided, going against the grain of a society which deems women’s intellectual work to be worthless.  In addition to a room of her own, Jane’s father presents her with the latest technology in writing, “fancy pens and expensive blank books,” as well as “a portable mahogany writing desk.” Adults sharing this book with a child should not miss the chance to comment on this detail!  Jane realizes that she must write about what she knows, and that “Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.”

As in most stories which end in success, the heroine suffers a setback. Her family’s financial difficulties led to their move to the spa city of Bath, where, as she adjusted to her changed life, her writing almost ended.  The death of her father added grief to Jane’s strained circumstances; Stirling vividly describes the poverty and violence of “unsurpassably stinky streets, filled with rough men, “ which threatened to silence her forever.  Eventually, she found the strength to write again, this time with the added perspective of adversity.  Seated again at her desk, watching and recording the world outside her window, she resumes writing, this time inviting readers to see “…the world through the eyes of complicated women.”  A Most Clever Girl cleverly resolves the dilemma of presenting Austen to young readers. Make her a gifted girl with a persistent temperament and a supportive parent, describe the obstacles in her path as nearly impossible to overcome, and celebrate the power of the written word.  Add beautiful and lively images of a colorful and the result is an accessible entrance to the world of Austen and her novels. Extensive backmatter includes additional sources, notes from the author and illustrator, and a list of quotes included in the book.

Nothing to Fear at the Post Office

I Do Not Like Yolanda – written and illustrated by Zoey Abbott
Tundra Books, 2021

It’s always exciting to encounter a children’s book that is truly original.  Zoey Abbott’s new picture book, I Do Not Like Yolanda, did not arrive out of nowhere. Of course, it has precedents in other books that deal with children’s baseless, yet still very real, fears about different people or phenomena.  It’s not the first children’s book to feature postage stamps in many of the pictures; the great author and illustrator Rosemary Wells has a used these miniature works of art in many of her stories.  But Bianca, the young heroine of Abbott’s book, and Yolanda, her mistaken source of anxiety, are one hundred percent individuals.  Here is a child living in a contemporary, diverse, San Francisco neighborhood, as we can see both on the return address of her envelopes and the vibrant urban neighborhood of the pictures.  She is also an avid philatelist (stamp collector), and an all-around artistic spirit.  Yolanda is a devoted employee of the local post office, but Bianca, as children will, has developed a frightening fantasy about this kind woman who sells her stamps.  Children will absolutely relate to the way Bianca’s mind works.

The book’s title is a straightforward declaration, and it presents a mystery: why?  Bianca knows exactly what she likes, even loves: writing letters and collecting stamps.  Why is the lady behind the post office counter so terrifying? Abbott doesn’t attempt to invent a logical answer to this question.  We meet Bianca in a two-page spread featuring postage stamps one side, including a U.S. airmail commemorative honoring Amelia Earhart and the famous Penny Black, the first British prepaid stamp for mailing letters.  Bianca stands on a small stepstool to reach the stamp album on a crowded set of shelves; she is obviously determined and purposeful.  She’s not singularly obsessed with one activity, though, as we can see from both the other items on the shelves and those on her table: a polka-dotted llama candle holder, some origami in progress, compartments of colored beads. Bianca is an artist as much as a collector. Her stamps represent not only objects to acquire; “They are cream colored with beautiful dark ink and portraits of queens, villains and exotic birds.”

Bianca writes many letters, carefully addressing and decorating the envelopes with drawings. Then comes the hard part: completing her transaction with Yolanda.  The lady weighs her heavier letters with suspicious diligence, and her fingernails are really long and brightly polished. (That last attribute is the link to reality; the nails do look a bit over-the-top.) Even children’s most irrational fears usually have some identifiable basis. It’s a shame to ruin what should be a lovely experience because the post office seems really friendly, with customers of every age and background socializing and helping one another. Too bad that Yolanda is an ogre, who “has probably eaten up dozens of people by now.”

Every picture in the book works perfectly. The ink, gouache, and colored pencil pictures are rendered in earth-tones, with white background and shadows helping to tell the story.  (In the front matter, Abbott thanks Olive Wagner for providing “whittled stick-pens used in the book.). Objects are drawn with loving detail. Facial features are simple, but Bianca’s wide eyes and small mouth express a great deal.  The suspected villain, Yolanda, finally escapes from Bianca’s wrong impression of her with a wide smile as she holds up a copy of Babette’s Feast, the novel by Isak Dinesen which becomes a link of friendship between her and her young customer. It’s obviously true that few children will have heard of the Danish author, her novel, or the movie it inspired, but that doesn’t matter.  Abbott includes it as a personal homage, and adults reading the book might be fans of Dinesen. The point of including this reference is that it is both personal and accessible.  Two people, an adult and a child, form a bond of friendship after a long period of misunderstanding.  Yolanda shows Bianca and book and explains how much fun she had preparing a meal based on the one described there.  Like Bianca, Yolanda has a creative side to her personality.  I Do Not Like Yolanda is stamped with quirky details within recognizable experiences. It’s a true original.

Little Women Fan Fiction. Part II

Jo’s Troubled Heart (Madame Alexander: The Little Women Journals) written by Charlotte Emerson, illustrated by Kevin Wasden
Avon Books, 1998

(For Little Women Fan Fiction, part I, see here.)

There are four books in this series from the Madame Alexander Doll Company, published to accompany a short-lived series of “play dolls” marketed in the late 1990s. They were 16-inch dolls designed to be played with by children, as opposed to be acquired by collectors, and they were one of many ill-fated attempts to make inroads into the American Girl doll and book market.  Each book corresponds to one of the four March sisters, and they are intended to reflect the characters and plots of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women without actually replicating them. Good luck with that, you may be thinking. But the books are nicely written stories for middle-grade readers and the characters do pretty much conform to the personalities developed in much richer detail in Alcott’s novel.  If that sounds like damning them with faint praise, these books do what they were meant to do. If they serve as a gateway to the real literary work of Alcott, so much the better.

The plot here is somewhat parallel to one of the anguished moments in the original, when an angry Amy, frustrated that she has been excluded by a trip to the theater, deliberately burns her sister Jo’s manuscript.  Jo’s Troubled Heart has a mild, but still poignant, commentary on the idea of family revenge. Convinced that her sisters have conspired to play a joke at her expense because of a series of bad but coincidental events, Jo decides on a writer’s revenge. She will alter the gothic tale she is planning to send to a magazine by making each villain correspond to one of her sisters.  The plot suggests a bit of paranoia and Edgar Allan Poe-like fears.  When the story is published, in spite of Jo’s attempts, with Laurie’s help, to have it withdrawn, her sisters are unperturbed.  Nora Ephron’s famous saying that “everything is copy” operates here, but no one is angry.

For middle-grade readers, the plot about family anger offers a sense that sibling rivalry can get out of hand.  Emerson also includes Marmee’s kind admonitions to Jo about learning to control her anger, an element of their mother-daughter relationship which is present in Alcott’s novel.  Women have been warned to control their anger, or to interpret it through a religious lens of acceptance, for centuries, and Alcott definitely confronted this in her own life.  Jo’s Troubled Heart offers a milder interpretation of family dynamics: “Your sisters are doing the best they can to keep their own tempers in the face of yours. Don’t harbor a bitter heart, darling Jo. Can’t you take your sisters back into your confidence and trust?” This sounds fair, if a bit less dramatic than the original novel.

I, for one, was relieved that the story appeared. I was really worried that Jo’s literary career would be stopped before it began by her feelings of remorse for vindictiveness. There were no terrible revelations in her story. Of course, Little Women itself presents a sanitized version of the complex Alcott family.  The Little Women Journals are pleasant doll fiction, not a replacement for reading a nineteenth-century novel about female independence, the literary ambitions of women, and finding a spouse worthy of Jo March.