This Saturday marks the beginning of a series of Saturdays devoted to Shelf-Discovery reads, or Shelf-Discovery-inspired reads. I joined the actual Challenge late, else there would have been more Saturdays filled with nostalgic re-reading of kidlit heretofore. But better re-read later than never to have read at all.

This Saturday is all-historical, with one proper Shelf Discovery choice and one of my “particularly Canlit Shelf Discovery” choices. Next Saturday will feature one more in each of those categories as well. And, oh, by the way, did I mention how much fun I’m having revisiting these old favourites?

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess (1904)

My copy of this has an inked comment inside the cover, in my fourth-grade handwriting. (I changed it dramatically from year-to-year so it’s a fairly reliable indicator…certainly of time period and possibly of some as-yet-undiagnosed-series-of-identity-fractures.) I wrote: “I would recommend this book very highly for anybody from ages 5 to 105.” I guess I felt that I’d missed out in not having spent time with Sara Crewe sooner. And, obviously, I loved it. Even as a young reader, I did not write in my books. This act of defamation must have had deep roots.

In re-reading this one, I was surprised by how “good” Sara seemed; I’m surprised that “being a Pollyanna” wasn’t, instead, “being a Sara”. Although of course what we think of, when we think of Sara Crewe, is how much she suffered, not so much whether she was “good”. But it does raise the question: does a “good girl” have to suffer in her goodness? Is that an inherent part of being “good”?

Sara says, in all her goodness: “It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.” Well, who doesn’t warm to a triumphant young girl with a love of books and an overactive imagination, but sometimes Sara is “a little much”. Even though Sara does struggle with her determination somewhat, but more-often-than-not she is able to “imagine herself away” from her trials and it is a little incredible what she endures with this. But her story still retains a certain charm and I re-read it contentedly.

And, besides, when Sara does lose her temper, it’s easy to understand why. “Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is one not easy to manage.” 60-1

When is the last time someone frustrated you by interrupting your reading?

Janet Lunn’s The Root Cellar (1981)

It was entirely unexpected to come across this connection with The Little Princess in this classic of Canadian Canlit. “I suppose so,” Rose grimaced. She didn’t like the idea of working for somebody. The picture Susan brought to mind was of having to live for weeks or months in an attic, like poor Sara Crewe with only crusts of bread to eat and stale water to drink, and she didn’t like it even though it was romantic to read about.” (138)

Despite Rose’s seeming squeemishness in this passage, she is a terrific heroine. If you like old-fashioned-styled girls’ stories (like Montgomery’s, Alcott’s, etc.), you will appreciate Rose’s vulnerability and fierceness, her compassion and her intelligence.

Combining the charm of a historical yarn with a simple contemporary family story (featuring a feisty orphan: one of my ATF kidlit characters), The Root Cellar is a satisfying read indeed. It made me teary in one spot, left me lament-y in another, but also offered a oh-so-delicious moment as well, alongside a steady enjoyment of the story. For all that I re-read it ravenously for a short period, I have never re-read this as an adult, but it was wonderful to re-discover it. Anyone else enjoyed Janet Lunn?

Anyone else have a favourite feisty orphan?