Title: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Major Themes: England, Historical Fiction, Children’s Books
Synopsis: Sarah Crewe has always been a little princess–but when her father’s fortune is completely lost, can she still be a princess while living as a pauper?
A Little Princess has always been one of my favorite books. What little girl doesn’t like fairy tale riches-to-poverty stories? Ever since Mom first read this story to me years ago, I’ve wished I could write one as good. And even after repeated hearings, it still hasn’t lost the glitter of a fresh tale.
Sarah Crewe has always behaved and lived like a princess—the beloved only daughter of a rich Englishman named Captain Crewe who lives in India. When the time comes for her to attend school, they part with much sadness—they have always been together, and it is hard for them to now be parted. Soon, Sarah settles into life at boarding school, and since she is the richest child there she is necessarily the teacher’s pet. After making friends with many of the girls—and enemies of others—Sarah does her best to keep everyone happy by helping them with their studies or telling them stories.
It isn’t long before disaster strikes. One of Captain Crewe’s friends claims to have found diamond mines, and after investing all of his and the Captain’s money into it, he left, leaving the Captain penniless. Captain Crewe died from the combination of a fever he had contracted and the shock of becoming a pauper. When Miss Minchin, the head of the school learns of what has happened, and finds out Sarah has no living relatives—her mother having died years before—she turns Sarah into a housemaid. Instead of silks and a maid, Sarah wears rags and is at the mercy of a very unhappy Miss Minchin—who treats her as less than a beggar. Sarah’s life—once so happy—is now miserable. Will she be able to rise above the ruins of losing everything, and rebuild her life? Will she ever find happiness again? Can she again become the princess her father wanted her to be—even though she is now a pauper?
A Little Princess is fun to read, and all will enjoy the thrilling narrative—especially little girls who dream of being real, live princesses. With a compelling glimpse into London during the late 1800s, we learn what it would have been like to live as a household servant, as well as what it would be to live as a rich girl. I believe all girls will be able to understand Sarah’s predicament—and cry with her when the going is tough. This is a classic that has stood the test of time, and will hopefully be around for many more years.
Update, 16 August, 2023: Upon reading this book together again, and discussing it, we realized that there is one major problem with A Little Princess. Sara is good and moral, without God. This is a clean book with a great storyline—good literature—but it definitely leaves the impression that a person can be good without having God in her life. Parents should discuss this with their children; I believe we are seeing the fruits today of stories and attitudes such as this. The attitude in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that people could be good and moral without God, and today there are no absolute morals in most of society. So, while a book like this is good reading, we offer it with caution.
WARNING: Chapter titled “The Magic”: mention of a princess who was beheaded during the French Revolution and her head was put on a pike.
Listening Level—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12
Reading Independently—Ages 7 – 9, 8 – 12, 10 – 12