What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Burnett's novel is a beautiful, fanciful, old-fashioned story with a complex heroine. The book is sweet and uplifting throughout, but Sara does suffer a terrible loss and is ill-treated by Miss Minchin, which could upset very young children. This classic novel also contains some old-fashioned attitudes. Becky asks if a new neighbor is a "Chinee" because his skin is "yellow." Sara recalls her time living in India, where she had an "ayah who adored her," and servants bowed to her. These passages carry a note of racial stereotyping, but Sara's goodness to all people overshadows her outmoded perspective. The novel has been made into two very good movies: the 1939 version starring Shirley Temple, and a lovely remake from 1995. Though neither film is true to the plot of the book, both versions are wonderful and faithful to the spirit of Burnett's story and characters.
What's the story?
Sara Crewe, a motherless child who has been raised in India by her wealthy, doting father, is enrolled in Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Girls, a boarding school in London. She is afforded every luxury, and the other students call her "princess"; some use the term out of awe and affection, while others are bitterly jealous of her. When Sarah is suddenly left penniless, she is relegated to the life of a servant in a cold, lonely attic room, but her always brilliant imagination becomes her saving grace. Throughout, she remains a magnanimous "princess," who feels best when she is helping others; the wonderful stories she invents, and her kind heart, earn her true friends and eventually lead her to a new home.
Is it any good?
A LITTLE PRINCESS is a beautifully crafted novel that celebrates the power of imagination. Sara Crewe is a bright, inventive, and generous young heroine, and female readers will connect with her strongly despite the book's old-fashioned language and setting. In fact, there is something wonderfully compelling about Sarah's attic room, which is transformed from cold blankness to a magical place via Sara's -- and author Frances Hodgson Burnett's -- stories.
The book is almost exclusively populated with girls and women, with the exception of Crewe's briefly seen father and her kind neighbors, so it may not appeal to boys as much as it does to girls. (Boys may enjoy Burnett's The Secret Garden, however, which features great boy characters.)
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about what it means for Sara to pretend to be a "princess." Today, young girls think of Disney when they think of princesses, but Sara has some very positive ideas about how a princess should behave.
How does Sara's imagination protect her, and how does she use her creative mind to help others?
What do you think was different about living in the time when A Little Princess takes place? Do you think you would have liked to live in England back then?