A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was first published in 1905.
Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl’s fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children’s literature.
To start, I highly recommend any edition of A Little Princess that has illustrations by Tasha Tudor (I’m not sure if all of the editions include her pictures). Color is better.
A Little Princess was one of my favorite books as a child and it will always hold a special place in my heart. Sara reminds me a lot of Anne from Anne of Green Gables in terms of her imagination, and even though some may see her as sanctimonious or overly perfect, I have always loved Sara, if only because she is an example of someone who has suffered greatly and yet still manages to hold on to hope, no matter how far away it seems.
In fact, A Little Princess reminds me quite a lot of the fairy tale “Cinderella,” especially the newest Disney film adaptation of the latter. Both Ella and Sara are reduced to poverty from riches, forced to work for someone who should be taking care of them, and are freed from their suffering in the end. Yet they both have as light of a heart as they possibly could considering the circumstances; Cinderella becomes friends with the animals around her and tries to do her work with a cheery heart, and Sara retains the friendships she already had, makes them stronger because of it, and uses her imagination to help her through the hard times (this novel is an excellent example of why imagination is a positive thing to cultivate, especially in children). Sara’s imagination is an “escape” in the best possible sense, in that it is practically the only thing that sustains her in the years that she is Miss Minchin’s servant. And by bringing imagination back into Becky’s life, Sara fills Becky’s world with color and possibilities that Becky never could have imagined in her life as a “scullery drudge.”
And, in the end, the hope that both Ella and Sara held only show that the way they face their obstacles makes them better people than Miss Minchin and Lady Tremaine, whose pettiness and skin-flintedness show more and more. Sara understood that behavior and thought are linked, and that by thinking like a princess or by thinking to act like one, she would ultimately behave like one.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
“Well,” [Sara] said, with some fire, “I should like to slap you—but I don’t want to slap you!” restraining herself. “At least I both want to slap you—and I should like to slap you—but I won’t slap you. We are not little gutter children. We are both old enough to know better.”
Here was Lavinia’s opportunity.
“Ah, yes, your royal highness,” she said. “We are princesses, I believe. At least one of us is. The school ought to be very fashionable now Miss Minchin has a princess for a pupil.”
Sara started toward her. She looked as if she were going to box her ears. Perhaps she was. Her trick of pretending things was the joy of her life. She never spoke of it to girls she was not fond of. Her new “pretend” about being a princess was very near to her heart, and she was shy and sensitive about it. She had meant it to be rather a secret, and here was Lavinia deriding it before nearly all the school. She felt the blood rush up into her face and tingle in her ears. She only just saved herself. If you were a princess, you did not fly into rages. Her hand dropped, and she stood quite still a moment. When she spoke it was in a quiet, steady voice; she held her head up, and everybody listened to her.
“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”