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Little Women

Classic still charms despite outdated gender roles.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

Educational value

The book offers a realistic look at life in the Civil War and post-Civil War time period.

Positive messages

The books offers mostly positive messages. The girls struggle with their desires for material things despite their poverty but come to appreciate what they have. The family helps a less-fortunate family by visiting and sending food, including giving up their Christmas breakfast. Religion plays an important role in the family, with the girls trying to overcome their faults. The family spends time together, including singing at the piano in the evening. During a week where the girls decide not to work, Beth forgets to take care of her pet bird, which dies (and everyone learns a lesson about sloth). On the negative side, there are many outdated (and yet true to the time period) examples of gender roles and attitudes, including that women should be docile, skilled in housekeeping ("the womanly skill that keeps home happy"), and submissive to men.

Positive role models

The girls are loyal sisters and friends. Each works on her faults, especially Jo. Jo forgives her younger sister for burning one of her stories and cuts off her hair ("her one beauty") to help her father. Jo and Amy encourage Laurie to live up to his potential. The older girls work rather than attend school. Jo defies convention and gets chided for liking sports and being active by rowing and running. Laurie pulls a prank on Meg but apologizes. Amy is generous with a selfish girl, and is rewarded for her principle.


Mr. Laurence shakes Laurie for not answering him.


A man at a party is described as a "large-nosed Jew."

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Meg drinks champagne at a party and acts unlike herself. Laurie gives Jo a glass of wine to help calm her. The family does not serve wine at Meg's wedding because Mr. March "thinks wine should be used only in illness." Meg makes Laurie promise not to drink. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this novel, published in 1868, contains outdated (but time-period appropriate) gender roles and many religious references.

What's the story?

Alcott's semi-autobiographical classic, set in Boston during and just after the Civil War, follows the four March sisters as they struggle to overcome poverty and grow into proper young ladies. Meg, the oldest, is pretty but swayed by material temptations; Jo is a good-hearted tomboy and writer; Beth is a shy, sweet music lover; and Amy, the youngest, is a little selfish but very social and elegant. Even as the girls bicker like all siblings, they keep their loving home together as they wait for their father to return from the war.

Is it any good?


Like the Little House books, LITTLE WOMEN's appeal is its vivid depiction of its 19th-century time period. Though the writing style can be didactic, even contemporary girls who can't imagine wearing silk dresses or being too ladylike to run will identify with the March sisters' strong bonds and earnest efforts to overcome their faults. Jo, who romps with her best friend (a boy) and cuts her hair short, remains an enduring character who defied the era's gender conventions.  

At nearly 800 pages (for some editions), the book might work better as a read-aloud so parents can skip the occasionally lengthy, boring passages of description, long letters, or the girls' plays. Young readers may struggle with the sometimes archaic language and unfamiliar references.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the emphasis on "housewifely" duties for women. How are opportunities and expectations different/similar for women today?

  • Would kids have liked living during the 1860s and '70s? Why or why not?

  • The type of clothes and objects the girls desire are different than today, but can kids see similarities in their own lives? What lessons about consumerism do the girls learn?

  • The writing style is more didactic than most literature written for children today. The author also breaks in with first-person comments. What do readers think of this style? How does it compare to contemporary novels?

Book details

Author:Louisa May Alcott
Genre:Family Life
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:September 30, 1868
Number of pages:798

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Adult Written byMomOfaReader August 9, 2009

Wonderful Role Model for Girls!

My eight-year-old daughter loved this book and would act out scenes, with her dolls acting as the March sisters. She especially identified with Jo and enjoyed comparing herself to her. It was good for her to see how Jo's temper got her into trouble sometimes and how Jo handled that. I especially appreciated how the March girls modeled love and respect for one's parents! I highly recommend this book.
Teen, 15 years old Written byFantasyFiend12 October 20, 2009
This book is absolutely gorgeous! I am normally more of a fantasy girl, but I must say, everyone should read this book. It's genius. Louisa May Alcott is brilliant. Once you read Little Women, you'll have to read all the sequels and, like me, you'll go through a major Alcott stage and start crazily reading all her books. I am starting to tear up just thinking about it. This book is so sad it gave me fever for crying so much!
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written bymargle October 13, 2009
I have loved this book since forever and I also like all of the sequels. I would recommend this book to any girl.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models