A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The book offers a realistic look at life in the Civil War and post-Civil War time period.
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 There are many outdated (and yet true to the time period) examples of gender roles and attitudes, including that women should be docile, skilled in housekeeping ("the womanly skill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
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 & Scariness
A pet dies. Mr. Laurence shakes Laurie for not answering him. References to the realities of the Civil War.
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A man at a party is described as a "large-nosed Jew."
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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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.