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A Little Princess

Girl's vivid imagination, kindness enrich all-time classic.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Readers will learn what life was like in an English girls' boarding school in the Victorian era, and gain an understanding of the disparity between living conditions of the wealthy and the poor in London at that time.

Positive messages

Despite the harsh realities Sara endures -- loneliness, hunger, cold, cruelty -- she remains a generous girl and a leader among the children at Miss Minchin's school. She makes a difference in the lives of her friends, Becky, Ermengarde, and Lottie, sharing her wonderful tales when that is all she has to give. Even strangers who witness Sara's kind actions are inspired to be more charitable to the needy. The novel places a strong value on goodness, as well as the power of imagination. Sara's greatest talent lies in her ability to pretend. She invents elaborate stories and scenarios to lift her own spirits and entertain the other children.

Positive role models

Sara Crewe is strong-willed, smart, and highly imaginative, giving her a rich inner life and great coping skills. Though it would seem that Sara's imaginary identity as "princess" sets her above her peers, she means it more as a responsibility to share all she has with the "populace." Her giving nature, fine mind, and excellent manners make her a great role model for her fellow students. Sara is mistreated by the headmistress of the seminary, Miss Minchin, but when the novel begins, her character has already been formed by her life with a loving and devoted father.


The mean headmistress, Miss Minchin, boxes a servant girl's ears a couple of times. 

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Written in 1888, Burnett's novel features serious haves and have-nots, Victorian-style. Sara Crewe is showered with extravagant gifts by her father; her dolls have fancier clothing than most real people have. Meanwhile, on the streets of London, starving, shoeless beggars tie rags around their feet. Clothing and comforts are described in lavish detail in the book, but material possessions are much less important than goodness.

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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?

Book details

Author:Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrator:Tasha Tudor
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:December 9, 1998
Number of pages:336
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 13

This review of A Little Princess was written by

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Teen, 13 years old Written bysixtyseve2 February 1, 2013

Sara is a PERFECT little "princess"

I love this book. It is a very imaginative story , and i can picture everything that happens in the book. The book sends a positive message to me. Sara is a perfect character. Her attitude is that of a princess. Her manners and outlook on everything liven up the story.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written bykirsten101 32 February 12, 2012


no matter who you are your a princess
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 14 years old Written byrebma97 October 21, 2011

Fairytale-ish story

I read a lot of this story. I wasn't in love with it, but the writing is good so it kept me engaged. It's like a fairytale, because Sara is rich and kind like the princesses in the stories. Miss Minchin is mean to Sara, even before she loses all of her wealth, so that could be a little scary for kids, but if they've read the story of Cinderella then it's no big deal. Even though Sara is a positive role model (she's always kind to people), this book is stereotyping how rich people are beautiful and kind. It's not that bad though, but something to consider.