When I was ten years old, I happened to read two books that became my all-time favorites; the ones that I would grab in case of a fire in my house, the books that helped make me the person I was. The first book was Harriet The Spy, which made me become a writer. The other was A Little Princess.
I remember I read this book because I saw the Shirley Temple movie. But I remember so clearly being blown away by the first chapter when Sara (the narrator) is being enrolled in a fancy boarding school in London, and her father is describing her to Miss Minchin, how she "gobbles up books. She doesn't just read books, she gobbles them up." and I could hear the pride in his voice when he said that, just like when I would hear the pride in my dad's voice when he bragged to his friends about having a reader for a daughter. It was the first time (not the last) that I could just identify with a character so much. Even though it was set in 1800's England, I felt like Sara and I were so much alike, that we could be friends.
The book then goes on how Sara meets her best friends, clumsy Ermagarde, lonely Lottie, and the maid Becky. Life is lovely for her even though Miss Minchin the headmistress doesn't like her, but Sara is so busy with school and her friends, she doesn't care about Miss Minchin's dislike for her.
But then all goes wrong when Sara's dad dies, and it looks like he dies without any money. Miss Minchin finally shows her bitterness by banishing Sara to the attic with the other maid Becky and works her like a slave, "boxing her ears" going without food, and now Sara can't ignore the anger Miss Minchin feels, now there is no escape.
But here is the beauty of the book: No matter what happens, Sara keeps her respect, her class, and remains hopeful to the end. One thing I learned from her that to feel optimism, to feel hopeful that no matter what, to not let the bastards get you down is sometimes the most important thing you can have in life.
There have been times in my life when I have felt beaten down, or let myself be beaten down by co-workers, a teacher, someone who I let have too much power over my life. But I would think of Sara, even today I still do this at thirty, and think: "If Sara can deal with that slag Miss Minchin, I can deal with this person in my life."
Sara Crewe was the first character I had compassion for. I wanted to take her away from Miss Minchin's, take her to my house where my family would feed her; she could go to school with me and after school we would go home and my grandfather could give us chocolate chip cookies. Then we could watch "Dialing For Dollars" and Schoolhouse Rock. She would tell me stories of London; I would play with her doll Emily. Even though I knew the story took place years before, I still wanted to help her somehow.
I checked this book from the school library, and I remember how much I loved the Tasha Tudor illustrations, how I loved reading about the Indian Gentleman finally finding Sara after looking for her for so long. Eventually, I had to give the book back. But that year under the Christmas tree, was a copy of A Little Princess, a copy my mother gave me. She wrote on the front page: "12/25/82 Merry Christmas, my darling girl! Can I read it first?" I said yes, then I read it all over again when she was done.
With the movie versions: I hate to say it, but skip the Shirley Temple version if you want a faithful version. Shirley Temple is a darn cute Sara, but it becomes a Shirley Temple movie with dancing, being so darn cute, you don't feel any fear or pain for Sara. The 1995 version is nice but the dad comes back alive which is a tad hokey, but it's beautiful to look at and the little girl who played Sara was enchanting. The most faithful is a Wonderworks version that was made in the UK, which I loved and incredibly faithful to the book.
I once heard that the books you read when you are a kid are the ones that really influence you when you are an adult. I was lucky in my life that I had A Little Princess influence me.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries