Little Women

Book review by
Stephanie Dunnewind, Common Sense Media
Little Women Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Classic still charms despite outdated gender roles.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 42 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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). There are many outdated (and yet true to the time period) examples of gender roles and attitudes, including that women should be docile, skilled in housekeeping ("the womanly skill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 & Representations

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 she 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.

Violence

A pet dies. Mr. Laurence shakes Laurie for not answering him. References to the realities of the Civil War. 

Language

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

Consumerism
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. 

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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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 c... Continue reading
Adult Written byTGeb819 December 19, 2019

One of The Most Charming Books Written

It is hard to give an age for this book, but is best loved by a mature-minded child. The book may be too slowly unraveled for modern kids who are used to quick... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byCatherineRoche August 3, 2018

Content:

A play is put on that mentions someone deciding not to stab himself, villains, and a potion of death. The story partially takes place during the Civil War and t... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 28, 2017

Long and Drawn Out

"Little Women" was overall a ridiculously disappointing book. Before reading it, I had heard much praise: "It's so good, you should read it!... Continue reading

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?

Book details

For kids who love strong female characters

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