Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men (1971)

The author makes it clear that there is no grand plot to be had in this follow-up volume to the immensely successful Little Women.

[There are no spoilers here included regarding Little Men, but if you haven’t read Little Women, the first in LMA’s trilogy, you might not want to read further.]

“As there is no particular plan to this story, except to describe a few scenes in the life at Plumfield for the amusement of certain little persons, we will gently amble along in this chapter and tell some of the pastimes of Mrs. Jo’s boys.”

No, it’s all about the boys’ school that Jo and Professor Bhaer have established. All about the boys who attend there.

And if you love a good school story (as I do), you’ll probably warm to this aspect of Jo’s Boys.

As a school headmistress, Jo is terrific, even agreeing to schedule pillow-fights (providing the boys cooperate and settle down in five minutes after the weekly event is declared finished).

(You hardly even notice that she spends all her days with her little men and not writing, as the young Jo, who spent hours in the attic with her books and ink-smudged apron, once dreamed of doing. Yes, that’s my crankiness over Little Women raising its head again. Likely some gentleman should be making a gesture in my direction so that I will be inspired to get my temper in check.)

And, to be fair, Jo’s book was published at the end of Little Women, and there is more talk of her writing in Jo’s Boys (more about that soon).

And to be even more fair, there is lots of talk about being a Good Little Man in this volume as well. For instance, the progress of Fritz, Professor Bhaer’s nephew.

“His uncle was fitting him for college, and his aunt for a happy home of his own hereafter, because she carefully fostered in him gentle manners, love of children, respect for women, old and young, and helpful ways about the house.”

But there is still an abundance of advice for being Good Little Women too.

“Daisy was as sunshiny and charming as ever, with all sorts of little womanlinesses budding in her, for she was like her gentle mother, and delighted in domestic things.”

You can’t start learning too early either. When Daisy (not Jo’s daughter, but never mind, all good little girls want to be good little women) feels neglected because the boys don’t want to include her in their games, Jo arranges for a toy kitchen to be built for her to “play” in.

“O Aunty, it’s a splendid new play! Can I really cook at the dear stove, and have parties, and mess, and sweep, and make fires that truly burn? I like it so much!”

[Well, I can’t complain about that: I’d’ve loved a play kitchen like that myself. But the boys’ games really did seem like they were more fun. ]

If you enjoyed Little Women, you’ll likely enjoy Little Men, too. It’s a sweet, old-fashioned tale that calls phrases like “rough and tumble” and “harem scarem” to mind.

But if you, too, misremembered Jo’s character as being the strong-willed, I’ll-do-anything-if-only-I-can-be-a-writer type, your reader’s nose might be out-of-joint to find her so solidly secured (and contentedly so, it seems) as the Good Wife and Mother to so many boys.