A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical Little Women, originally published in 1868, is a lengthy, beloved American classic that tells the story of the four March sisters growing up in Boston during and after the Civil War, as they wait for their father to return home. Generations of readers have loved its vivid, relatable characters. However, the writing style is old fashioned and the story features outdated (but time-period-appropriate) gender roles. Religion plays an important role in the family, so there are many religious references.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
LITTLE WOMEN is set in Boston during and just after the Civil War and 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?
The enduring appeal of this novel is its vivid depiction of its 19th-century time period. The Little House books apealr to generation after generation for the same reason. Though the writing style in Little Women 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. Today's reader will especially appreciate Jo, who romps with her best friend (a boy) and cuts her hair short and defies 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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the emphasis on "housewifely" duties for women shown in Little Women. How are opportunities and expectations different for women today? How are they similar?
What do you think of how the author breaks in with first-person comments. How does it compare with contemporary novels?
Would you have liked living during the 1860s? Why or why not?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love strong female characters
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