A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the title character of Eleanor Porter's 1913 children's novel Pollyanna has become a euphemism for anyone who exhibits unflinching optimism. The orphan, Pollyanna, was taught by her late father to play the "glad game": to take any disappointment and try to find a reason to be glad about it. With her sweet disposition and positive outlook, Pollyanna changes the lives of all the adults in her life. Like many books of its time, Pollyanna has some archaic and racist ideas: Pollyanna talks about saving money for the "heathens," which is how her father referred to Hindu people in India, and a maid is referred to as "Black Tilly, who washes the floors" (though that one-line reference to "Black Tilly" has been edited out of some editions). Violence includes a child being injured in a car crash. The novel has been adapted for the screen a few times, including a 1960 version starring Hayley Mills that takes liberties with the book and a 2016 Masterpiece Theatre production that sets the story in England.
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What's the story?
In POLLYANNA, the young heroine has had a hard life. Her mother died when she was young, and she has been impoverished all her life. Now, at the age of 11, her father has died too, and she is sent to live with her aunt, an austere and humorless woman who does her duty by her niece -- and nothing more. She relegates Pollyanna to a hot and barren attic room and hopes that she won't disrupt her quiet household routine too much. Pollyanna is able to weather these hardships because her father gave her a gift years before: the "glad game," and by playing it and teaching it to her new neighbors, Pollyanna proceeds to set the town to rights -- couples reunite, an orphan finds a home, the town minister begins to preach love rather than vengeance, and gladness reigns.
Is it any good?
Published just before the beginning of World War I, this novel can seem old-fashioned today, but it still charms readers who enjoy older literature. Its kindly philosophy can still inspire, and youngsters will be delighted by a child who has so much to teach adults. Though the name "Pollyanna" has become associated with someone who is cloyingly optimistic, the character is quite a courageous and resourceful girl. Her positive outlook is deliberate, hard-won, and ultimately transformative, for the characters in the book and, potentially, for readers. What keeps the novel Pollyanna fresh is cute innocent details, like the way Pollyanna thinks Mr. Pendleton has a real "skeleton in his closet," and her fascination with the way light shining through a prism makes a rainbow.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about optimism in Pollyanna. This book is known for the "glad game." What do you have to be glad about?
Pollyanna was published more than 100 years ago. What seems old-fashioned about it to you? Are there things in the book that could happen today?
Have you seen any of the movie versions of Pollyanna? How was the movie you saw different from the book?
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