Birthday wish lists, then and now

Texas summers are an ideal time to go through those boxes and random places you throw stuff to get it out of the way. After all, it’s far too hot to do any outside chores. Last weekend, I went through a stack of things my mother had given me years ago in an effort to clean out her own hidden piles. In it was a birthday present wish list from when I was 10. Here’s the first page.

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Notice the inclusion of Anne of Ingleside? Guess I hadn’t made it through the whole series quite yet. The timing of the rediscovery was perfect–it was the day after I had received a truly remarkable Anne birthday present. How has Anne Shirley been a part of my life and my wish lists for over 30 years?

I’ve written about Anne more than any other character on this blog. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first read Anne–probably 8 or 9, a few years after the Anne of Green Gables mini-series. I do remember how I was introduced to her–completely by accident! Remember those delightful Scholastic order forms you would get in elementary school? I really wanted A Little Princess because I had seen the Shirley Temple movie and wanted to read the book. There was a 2 for 1 special, and Anne of Green Gables was automatically included. I’m sure I didn’t read Anne right away–after all, I had never heard of her. But when I did, I quickly became obsessed. And clearly, it’s an obsession that has staying power.

Over the decades, I’ve built a fairly impressive Anne collection. My preference is for serendipitous discoveries in antique stores, though I have bought a few things off of eBay. I have many, many versions of the books, including a first edition, 4th printing of Anne. I have dolls and tea cups and post cards and illustrations of Green Gables. Of course, I have things for some of my other book loves, especially Little Women  and Little House on the Prairie. But I definitely have more Anne things than anything else.

Part of my collecting bug is my fascination with how Anne has been adapted and remade over the decades, from bizarre book covers to the many, many film adaptations. Often, this feels like watching a train wreck, but I can’t turn away. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few things from the 1934 version, including the amazing study guide pictured below. And there’s that extra element of interest since the actress fell so in love with the character that she changed her name. Talk about obsession.

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But I had never been able to find anything relating to the 1919 silent film version. This is one of the countless silent films that didn’t survive. For it’s added bit of fun, the people involved ended up in a bit of a scandal. There were rumors of an affair between the actress, Mary Miles Minter, and the director, William Desmond Taylor, and then he was murdered in 1922. The case is still unsolved. And there are certainly theories that Minter was somehow involved in his death.

Years ago, I had a bid on a poster from the movie and lost it at the last moment. It is one of my great eBay regrets. At some point a few years ago, I mentioned this to my friend Jenn. I have no memory of telling her this story, but we travel together pretty regularly so we have certainly talked about all sorts of things.

For my 40th birthday, she gave me this.

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Isn’t it beautiful? She had mentioned my wish to a friend of hers that keeps an eye on this sort of thing–and he’s been looking for almost 2 years. I was absolutely amazed at the thoughtfulness–and dedication required–for this gift.

There isn’t anything else on my birthday wish list from 30 years ago that I would still want today. But Anne is still there–she’s almost always been there. Milestone birthdays are a time to reflect, and it’s comforting to realize that certain things in my life have remained so constant over the years. Now to find the right spot to hang my new treasure!

Mrs. Rachel Lynde Would Not Approve

When a favorite book is adapted for the screen, I try to keep an open mind. I really, really do. And there were reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the latest Anne of Green Gables movie. The casting of Anne was more age appropriate. It was filmed on Prince Edward Island. And the granddaughter of author L. M. Montgomery was involved.

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But I was also smart. I knew I needed to watch with friends. And perhaps some sort of alcohol. On Saturday night, I made clam chowder and a few friends came over. Within the first few minutes, Ashley had already declared “Minus one point for Matthew falling into a puddle of manure!” Someone else declared “Half a point for it being filmed on PEI.” And then I said “Should we keep score? Do we even dare?”

For a little while, things were almost even. Not quite, but almost. And then it went straight downhill. At the end of the night, our score sheet read:

Points For: 14

Points Against: 317.5

So, what were our problems? In most cases, the casting and the characterizations just weren’t right. Matthew was too chatty and portrayed as a bumbling fool. Marilla was too soft. Anne was just way too happy. That streak of sadness and longing that is so critical to her character wasn’t there. Diana took the lead on the imagining (though she looked right.) Gilbert. Oh Gilbert. They lost 150 points for that casting decision. Rachel Lynde, Mrs. Barry, and Mr. Phillips were about the only casting decisions we thought they got right.

There were details that just weren’t right—and we can’t understand why certain changes were made. Sure, only a fan would be outraged that Anne told Marilla her parents died when she was five. But a key part of the books is that Anne had no memories of her parents, because they died when she was a few months old.

The pacing was very odd. We kept pausing and wondering how they were going to wrap things up in the time they had left. And then Anne suddenly fell through some ice and Matthew hopped on a sled to rescue her and we just lost it. At this point, I stopped the movie and got out the whiskey. I believe curse words were used. And one really shouldn’t curse while watching Anne. Rachel Lynde wouldn’t approve.

The movie ended with Matthew taking Anne back to the train station because the orphanage had found a better home for her—WHICH NEVER HAPPENED AND COMPLETELY CHANGES THE STORY. Rachel tells Marilla to chase after them. All are united in a hug and the credits roll.  Ummm, what? Of course, now that I’ve learned that they’ll be making 2 more movies, I sorta understand. But I’m still not happy.

My mom asked me if people would still recognize the story if they picked up the book. And the answer is probably yes. And she asked me if it was a good movie if I didn’t know the books so well. But I think the answer to that is no. So much cheese was crammed into a 90 minute movie. Parts of it was beautiful, but there was so little character growth. And Anne was just annoying.

I believe that classics like Anne are incredibly important, and movies can do so much to bring them to a wider audience. But please, for the love of God, respect the characters.

At the end of the movie, Ashley declared “I have to make sure my niece never sees this movie.” And then we popped in the Megan Follows version. Flawed though it is, our beloved characters are still recognizable. And I didn’t start cursing at Kevin Sullivan until the third Anne movie. . .

Kindred Spirits

The last six months or so have been crazier than usual, of which this poor neglected blog is certainly a testament.  To briefly recap: in June, I was named Interim Executive Director at the museum where I’ve worked as educator for the past nine years.  I spent four weeks this fall at a professional development seminar in Indiana.  And the weeks surrounding that departure were crammed with work things, a friends wedding (I was maid of honor), my parents’ 65th birthday party, and of course, the holidays.  Now that it’s January, I feel like I’m starting to get a sense of what the new normal is.  At the very least, I’ve found time to read and watch tv again!

Several of my friends had equally crazy (though for different reasons) falls.  They also happen to share my love for Anne Shirley.  In talking with one friend back in October about that lovely blank spot between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided that an Anne party would be the perfect way to celebrate making it to the end of 2013.  Tea, raspberry cordial (with optional hooch), tea-time food and the movie.  Because I am somewhat nuts, I decided that I would also haul out my entire Anne collection for party decorations.

Now, I knew I had a lot.  After all, I’ve been collecting since I was nine or ten years old.  If you’d been keeping an eye out for things for 25 years, you would have a lot too.  But seeing it scattered throughout the house was kinda amazing.  I believe guests were both amazed and frightened.  In my defense, the only things that are ever out all the time are a few pictures in the guest bedroom.  Though I will confess that I left out a few of the Anne dolls and added my Little Women porcelain figures and my Laura Ingalls Wilder (the author, not the little girl!) doll for this month.

yes, that is four different versions of Anne of the Island.  Turns out I have the most copies of that one.

yes, those are four different versions of Anne of the Island. Turns out I have the most copies of that one.

One friend brought scones and another egg salad sandwiches.  I made cucumber sandwiches, pimento cheese (yes, I know that’s not in Anne, but I live in the South where if you have tiny tea sandwiches, pimento is required!), raspberry cordial, and plum puffs.

Raspberry cordial!

Raspberry cordial!

Plum puffs!  Complete with stills from two of the movies.

Plum puffs! Complete with stills from two of the movies.

Here’s the thing about Anne: we all adore Anne, but we can also make fun of her.  After all, what child, even in the 19th century, ever talked like that?  We started being snarky from the very beginning, which made watching so much more fun.  We laughed in places where as a kid, I would never have laughed.  I would have just nodded my head because I understood perfectly.  We talked back to the movie often.  The champagne might have had something to do with that.

About halfway through the movie, we started imagining backstories for some of the secondary characters.  If Aunt Josephine is so rich, why isn’t Mr. Barry?  Was there some sort of family argument?  And how did she become so wealthy?  Was she a madam?  It went downhill from there.  By the end of it, Mr. Barry was a serial killer, Mrs. Stacey had some sort of secret double life, and I can’t remember what all else.  It was hysterical.  If we were really clever and not so busy, we could write one heck of an alternate history of Avonlea.

It’s not often that I get to celebrate my love of kidlit history with others in person and not just online.  That moment of discovery can be so delightful.  After all, there has to be a moment of discovery because it’s not like I talk about such things all the time.  (Contrary to the belief of one friend who teases me often about this interest and refused to come to the party because she “might be converted.”)  I discovered one kindred spirit when she noticed a very discreet watercolor of Green Gables at a housewarming.  Another was discovered during a workplace conversation about Little Women (a theme for one of our events.  Gee, I wonder whose idea that was. . .).  Bringing everyone together was such fun.

The bookshelf that holds all of my older versions.  They no longer fit on one shelf!

The bookshelf that holds all of my older versions. They no longer fit on one shelf!

Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think.

On Slates

Around here, school is about to start.  This is quite evident with the flashing school zone lights, and the conversations among the younger set.  I spent Sunday night hanging out with two of my favorite girls, Grace and Sophie.  However, the usual “back to school” conversation took an unexpected turn.  Grace, now 11, started talking about boys.  It was a very long conversation.  Questions were posed such as “Would you rather be kissed by the dumbest boy you know?  Or a dumb boy you don’t know?”  “If a boy kissed you, would you faint from embarrassment?”  I also learned that Sophie had a pre-school boyfriend, who she kissed every day.  And Grace has her first official crush.  Luckily, she’s in that stage where she can still talk to him and not blush, but she’s also desperately hoping he doesn’t figure it out.

In the middle of all of this, I hopped up from the table and turned on my nook.  Since finishing up the Betsy-Tacy books, we’ve been reading Anne.  I have never before been so nervous introducing a book to kids before.  Anne is so near and dear to my heart.  What if they didn’t like her?  Before we read the first chapter, I told them that if they didn’t like it, I understood–that there were lots of other books I wanted to share.  As I started reading, I got more nervous.  It is a much harder read-aloud than Betsy–the rhythm and pacing are so different.  I also worried about the whole “are you going to send me back” part because these girls are also adopted.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Grace, Sophie and I are indeed kindred spirits and they really like Anne.

Anyway, back to my story.  I knew we were getting close to the wonderful scene in which Anne thwacked Gilbert with a slate.  But would we get to it tonight, after talking endlessly about the problems of liking boys?  Miracle of miracles, it was the next chapter!  What are the odds?  Life lessons through literature, handed to me on a silver platter!

So, we read about Gilbert teasing Anne.  And Anne setting Diana drunk.  And I was struck anew at how funny Montgomery is–and how true those scenes still are.  They totally got why Anne was so mad at Gilbert–and we talked about the deep desire to sometimes whack a boy with a book (not a slate.  I had to explain what a slate was.)  I watched as Sophie and Grace’s face lit up at the thought of hosting a friend without the parents around.  I’ve read this book so many times now that the lovely details often just wash over me.  As I stumble over some of Montgomery’s “poetical” words, laugh at the jokes, and watch the girls’ reaction as they hear this classic for the first time, it feels like a fresh, new book.

As they were going to bed, Sophie asked me: “Am I like Anne?”

My reply: “I think there’s a little Anne in all of us.  You’ve got a great imagination, you get into trouble sometimes, but you have a big heart.  Just like Anne.”

Judging a book by its cover. . . Again.

I first ranted about covers of Anne back in 2009.  And then just this week, many kindred spirits joined my rant.  A new cover of Anne went viral–Anne is remarkably modern, and more shockingly, blond!  I mean, if you’re going to switch Anne’s hair color, shouldn’t you at least do something she would want?  Like raven black?  Anyway, it was all over facebook–and how could fans resist sharing their shock and horror with a cover like this?  Seriously, I don’t even have words to explain how inherently wrong this is.

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I just went to amazon, and this is now “out of stock” and no cover is pictured.  Methinks they heard the rants from around the world and actually did something about it.  Be sure to check out the comments.  I’ve never seen so many one star reviews on Amazon.  Alas, this publisher is just part of a long line of people that have done horrible things to the covers of the Anne novels.

And here’s a link to my original post, complete with lots more horrifying covers of one of my favorite books.

In other Anne news, I’m now reading Anne to my favorite little girls.  They’re in love!  And this is the cover of the edition we’re reading together:

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

Isn’t that more like it?

Timeless

This year marked the 40th anniversary of my museum’s biggest event of the year, Candlelight.  As part of the anniversary, we created a small exhibit and I researched the history of the event.  One thing that surprised me was how quickly the key elements of the event came together: buildings decorated by community groups, performances by community groups, and candlelit paths.  The core elements of the event are pretty much unchanged since 1972–which is pretty remarkable in this day and age.  And there aren’t many museum events anywhere that last for decades–events have a shelf life.  Audiences change, staff change, sometimes even missions change.  While finishing up this project, I realized that probably the biggest factor that’s led to the longevity of this event is the timelessness of Christmas.  People crave tradition this time of year.

We had a smaller event (the reading list and post about last year’s event) this past weekend which featured Christmas chapters from books set during the museum’s time period.  I read quite a few bits from the Little House books and Betsy-Tacy to guests.  For some little ones, it was their first introduction to Laura and Mary.  Many times during the day, I would read a passage, turn to the visitors and say “Does that sound familiar?”  And they would nod eagerly, their eyes round with wonder.  Though the concept of thinking a very good Christmas was a tin cup, a cake, a stick of candy and a penny is completely out of their realm of imagination, the worry about how Santa would find them is still a big concern for kids today.

Historically speaking, it amazes me how set some of our traditions have been for the past century or so.  Though variations of the legend of Saint Nicholas have been around for centuries, Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,”  wasn’t published until 1823.  And the visual we have of Santa in a red suit with belly and beard wasn’t firmed up until Thomas Nast drew a cartoon in 1863, smack dab in the middle of the Civil War.  (side note: Nast was more famous at the time for his political cartoons, which I find fascinating.  Early political cartoons and Santa, all in one artist!)  During the 19th century, there were enormous changes in how we celebrated Christmas (for more on this, check out Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas, which I wrote about last year).  But what struck me on this read-through of some old favorites is how these changes weren’t really thought of as new, but the way it’s always been.

Now, historical purists will remind me that the publication dates on these autobiographical novels don’t match the dates they were set, so it’s entirely possible that the attitudes about Christmas better reflect the 20th century than the 19th.  But let’s just ignore that for right now and see what we can find that’s stayed virtually unchanged over the past century and more.  I had thought about typing out some of these wonderful quote and passages for you, but decided that part of the fun is reading the whole chapter.  So, my gift to you is an excuse to pull out an old favorite!

Worry about Santa finding you?  Check out multiple volumes in the Little House series, including Little House on the Prairie (no snow!) and On the Banks of Plum Creek (no chimney!)

The joy of finding the perfect gift for someone?  Take a look at Anne of Green Gables (puffed sleeves!) or Roller Skates (Trinket’s first Christmas tree).

The worry of not being able to give all you want to?  Probably all of the Little House books and Little Women too (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”)

The importance of stockings!  Again, Little House and also the later Betsy-Tacy books.

Hinting about something you want and not trusting your family to get it for you?  Why, you simply must read “The Brass Bowl” in Heaven to Betsy (possibly my favorite Christmas passage in the BT books.)

Food, glorious food?  Well, descriptions are all over the place, but Farmer Boy immediately leaps to mind.  The description of the feast almost takes up a whole page.

The fun of shopping, even if you don’t buy?  Why, go no further than Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, which also includes one of my favorite bits about the importance of believing in Santa, even if you are grown up.

I know I’m leaving out many Christmas classics.  What are some of your favorites?  These stories have so much in common, even if they were written decades ago.  And I think they’re going to last just fine into the future.  Even as time and technology hurries forward, some things, especially emotions don’t change much.

And now I must run to do a wee bit of last minute shopping myself.  Merry Christmas to you and yours.  And happy reading!

Kindred Spirits

A few weeks ago, a friend said to me:

“I just got an ice cream maker.  So I’m thinking about having a party where we watch Anne of Green Gables and then break into the ice cream at the same time Anne tastes ice cream for the first time.  What do you think?”

I’ll give you one guess to figure out what I said.

Yes, you’re right.  I was thrilled!  Best party idea ever!

I should say a few words about this friend.  I have this tendency to categorize my friends, and she falls in the “museum friend” category–another educator at a history museum.  When she first moved to Texas, she called me up and said “I need a mentor.”  Or something like that.  I still find that incredibly ironic because a)she’s older than me and has lots more experience and b)I’ve probably learned more from her than she’s ever learned from me.  We quickly became good colleagues and have shared many a drink as we discussed various museum educator quandries.

But I didn’t realize our shared love of Anne until I invited her to a housewarming at my last apartment.  From my trip to PEI, I have a wonderful watercolor of Green Gables.  It’s like a secret password–to most folks, it’s just an old house.  A picture of an old house makes sense in the home of someone that has been working in historic house museums for years.  But to those that are kindred spirits, well, it’s GREEN GABLES!!  At any rate, when she saw that picture she squealed “Green Gables!!”  And then I learned that she dragged her husband to PEI for their honeymoon.  That may have been the moment that our friendship went to a new level.

So, her party thrilled me for a couple of reasons.  Chief among them was my ability to say to another friend (who was invited but didn’t come): “See, it’s not just me!  I’m not the only person you know who has this crazy love of Anne!” (this other friend thinks that I’m making my Betsy-Tacy friends up. . .)   It has also been years since I’ve watched the movie.  And finally, it gave me an excuse to make raspberry cordial again.

I would classify raspberry cordial as one of those iconic literary foods.  When you hear the name, well, don’t you just automatically think of Anne?  And how often do you hear about raspberry cordial and Anne isn’t referenced somehow?  I made the recipe from Kate MacDonald’s cookbook, which means it was a non-alcoholic cordial.  Just raspberry cordial is a bit much, so we added some Sprite and man, it was tasty.  As was the ice cream!  Isn’t the cordial pretty?  Please excuse the containers–I did not want a raspberry interior in my car. . .

Watching any movie with friends is a bit different than watching a movie alone.  I honestly have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve watched Anne from start to finish.  This time around, I really noticed the humor.  Montgomery had this sharp, ironic edge to her pen.  Of course, Anne’s dramatic flair can get a little tiring, but I’m still amazed at how much dialog was lifted straight from the books.

And though the scene where Matthew died didn’t make me cry, the scene where Anne tells Marilla that she’s staying in Avonlea and giving up college for the time being did make me tear up.  Some members of the party will insist that I started crying much earlier in the movie.  This is not true–my eyes were tearing up from a combination of allergies and laughter.  Not the fact that Marilla finally said that Anne could stay.

But it was so good to watch and laugh and enjoy that movie with friends.  And ice cream and raspberry cordial.  There are lots of other folks gathering to watch a literary movie tonight as well, a movie that will likely make a few more dollars than Anne ever did.  Still, even though we may always be frustrated at what the movies mess up, there’s something magical about watching a decent movie based on a book you love.  Reading can be such a solitary experience, but watching a movie doesn’t have to be.  I know the standard line for readers is that “a movie is never as good as the book.”  My personal attitude is: as long as people won’t be horribly confused if they pick up the book after watching the movie, I’m good.  As long as any plot changes still make sense with the character’s personality, I’m good.

So yes, I can live with Anne of Avonlea, but we will not speak of the third Anne movie. 

And sometime in the next week, I’ll totally be in a movie theater, bawling my eyes out at the last Harry Potter movie.

Secrets Revealed

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic StoriesIt’s not often that I read a cookbook straight through, but after dipping in to The Little House Cookbook, I knew this was one that I had to read.  It has been out for a very, very long time (1979), and I have a very dim recollection of checking it out at the library when I was a kid.  But I had never gotten around to purchasing it for my library.  After reading it cover to cover, I’m thrilled to add it to my kidlit history shelves!

From a historical perspective, Walker does a wonderful job of talking about the challenges of cooking in the 19th century.  She talks about the shift from hearth to stove.  How to preserve foods.  What could be purchased from a store–and how exciting it was when new products were born.  It’s stuff we try to explain to visitors at the museum on a regular basis, and her introduction to these complex stories is superb.

And from a kidlit perspective–this book is pure magic!  These books spend a lot of time on food.  Quick–how many Little House foods can you name?  I’ll wait.

See?  A lot, right?  I think it is physically impossible to read Farmer Boy and not raid the kitchen.  There are so many wonderful things to think about: fried apples n’ onions, vanity cakes, green pumpkin pie, doughnuts, even something as simple as popcorn just sounds better after reading about it.  And this cookbook has all these recipes and more.  Of course, Laura didn’t include recipes for everything, and Walker’s research skills really show here as well.  She hunted through period cookbooks and tested and tested again to make these recipes possible for modern cooks.  Granted, there are several recipes I have no interest in trying (roasting a whole pig?  umm, no), but the fact that even those recipes were included makes this book extra special.

The Anne of Green Gables TreasuryMy delight in reading this book reminded me of a treasured book from my childhood.  Back in 1991, Carloyn  Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson published The Anne of Green Gables Treasury.  Picture this: nerdy, 12 year old Melissa on the phone with a friend who also loves Anne.  We’re thumbing through our respective copies together, squealing and giddy.  Finally, we have the answers to so many questions!  A map of Avonlea!  The floor plan to Green Gables!  A tea time menu, complete with recipes for Monkey Face Cookies (which are wonderful!) and Plum Puffs (also quite good)!  Explanations of the clothes!  Oh, it was really, really exciting.

Collins and Eriksson have gone on to publish more Treasuries, including books on The Secret Garden, Little Women, and of course, Little House.  They are all quite good, but in my mind, none of them have had the magic that the Anne treasury did.  Suddenly, almost all of my questions were answered.  It was like these authors had uncovered these secrets that L. M. Montgomery had left buried in the books.

Books like these certainly aren’t for everyone.  A lot of readers may not want to go beyond the page.  But for those that do, I thank people like Barbara Walker, Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson.  They’ve brought me a lot of joy as a reader–and certainly helped grow my love of history.

School days

Today is the first day of school for most of my Texas neighbors.  We also had a record high temperature of 107, but that’s beside the point.  Depressing, but not the point.

School is a really big part of so much of kidlit history.  Because, you know, these are books about kids and they spend most of their time in school.  Usually.  In no particular order, some of my favorite school incidents in kidlit history.

Illustration from Anne of Green Gables – Anne smashes slate on Gilbert's head.Anne thwacks Gilbert with a slate.   Well, he totally deserved it, what with calling her carrots and all.  Little did he know that she was not a girl to be trifled with.  Still love this line after all these years: “Anne had brought her slate down on Gilbert’s head and cracked it–slate, not head–clear across.”  And from there begins one of the greatest “I can’t stand you!” to “I will beat you at everything.” to “I guess we can be friends” to “I love you!” relationships ever.  What would their story have been like if Gilbert had never called her carrots?  Would there have even been a story? 

Side note: though I have nothing to back this up, I’m willing to bet that this one scene is the most commonly illustrated scene from Anne.  Such drama!

Side note #2: I have never been able to decide if this really hurt Gilbert’s head or if it was just super dramatic.  Perhaps it was more of a stunning situation. 

Side note #3:  Guessing all the boys were less likely to tease Anne after this one. 

Tacy runs away from school.  Everyone knows that Tacy is shy, and most people know how to handle that.  Except her teacher, Miss Dalton, who puts her right up front, away from the other kids (and more importantly away from Betsy), and next to her.  Who is, of course, a stranger.  So who can blame Tacy for running away during recess?  Tears and wailing on the part of both Tacy and Betsy ensues.  Thank goodness for Mrs. Chubbock who has chocolate men.  “They couldn’t very well eat and cry together.”  Words to live by, my friends!

Laura teaches school at the Brewster Settlement.  Laura is not yet 16 and is off to teach school.  Some of her pupils are older and taller and much meaner than she is.  The family she boards with is more than a little dysfunctional.  The scene with the knife still makes me shiver.  But as a historian, I’m grateful for this incident to show that not everyone did well in the wilderness.  The bright spot in what could be quite a lot of gloom—Almanzo–driving through the snow so she can go home each weekend.  Sigh.

Funny how two of my favorite school stories are also romantic. . .

What are some of your favorite school stories from children’s literature?

To be pretty. And grown up.

For me, it was dangly earrings, curly hair and contacts.  For Anne Shirley, it was upswept hair and long skirts.  For Betsy Ray, it was no freckles and curly hair.  And for Mona, it was a bob and red nail polish.  Those beacons to girls of what it might be to be grown up.  And even more importantly, to be pretty.

When I was young, I first desperately wanted curly hair.  Little did I realize how fabulous my straight glossy hair was–and I was even less aware that once I hit puberty, that straight hair would vanish.  So, I got a very classic 1980s perm in 4th grade.  Pierced ears were next.  Mom thought this was crazy talk–she doesn’t like needles, so the idea of having one pierce your ear just for fun?  Yep, not on her list of things to do.  But she relented, with the caveat that I could not have any earrings that dangled.  One birthday, my friend Jennifer gave me dangly earrings.  I begged and begged for mom to let me wear them–because then I would be fashionable and stylish.  Eventually, she did.  I still have those earrings.  They really aren’t terribly dangly–maybe an inch long.

But what I seriously pined for was contacts.  I was one of those lucky kids who got glasses in 3rd grade.  And remember, this was in the mid-1908s–not exactly a decade known for good glasses.  Once I hit junior high, I would sometimes just take off my glasses and look in the mirror.  Without those silly glasses, I was almost pretty.  Maybe I would finally have a boyfriend.  And be pretty.  And be grown up.  My 8th grade graduation present was contacts, and I wore them for the first time on the last day of school.  Some people barely recognized me.  I felt vindicated in my longing for contacts.  And I knew high school would be better.  It was, but not because of the contacts.

Looking back, we refer to those years as my ugly duckling years.  Not sure that I’m all that swanlike now, but things are definitely better.  If I was truly a bare-your-soul blogger, I would post one of those truly bad pictures from those years.  But I’m not going to do that.  Because this is a blog that is about books and history.

So about those books and history–or at least history other than my own.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve recently fallen in love with the Melendy family.  In The Saturdays, set in the 1940s, one of my very favorite chapters was about Mona’s Saturday.  She does what I think every other awkward, teenage girl has longed to do–she went out on her own and did what she thought was necessary to be pretty.  And grown up.  She knows exactly what she’s doing:

“After all, nobody ever asked me not to,” she told herself.  “I never promised I wouldn’t.”  But all the time she knew that she was quibbling; the corner of her mind that never let itself be fooled was well aware that neither Father nor Cuffy would approve of what she was about to do.

So, she goes into the beauty shop and for $1.50, she takes an important step toward becoming grown up.  She has her hair cut and her nails manicured.  She loves the way she looks.  But she also knows that when she gets home, her family may not feel the same way.

Rush said, “Jeepers!  You look just like everybody.  Any of those dumb high school girls that walk along the street screaming and laughing and bumping into people.  Why couldn’t you have waited a while?”

“What in heaven’s name has got into you, Mona?” inquired Father, red faced from choking.  “I never thought you were silly or vain.  When you’re eighteen years old if you want to go in for that sort of thing it will be all right, I suppose.  But not now.  There’s no way we can bring your braids back, but at least we don’t have to put up with those talons.”

And so Mona eventually gets the red nailpolish off and is properly chastised for growing up too fast.  But though I had never done a similiar thing, I understood her motivations so well.  And I began to think about previous kidlit history heroines and their own steps towards trying to be pretty and grown up.

Anne Shirley, set in the late 1800s, longs for puffed sleeves.  But there are other mile-markers on the road to being grown up.  On Anne’s 13th birthday, she and Diana discuss how close they are to being grown up–Anne is convinced “that in two more years I’ll be really grown up.”  Diana declares:

“In four more years we’ll be able to put our hair up,” said Diana.  “Alice Bell is only sixteen and she is wearing her hair up, but I think that’s ridiculous.  I shall wait until I’m seventeen.”

Fast forward, twenty years or so, and you meet Betsy Ray.  When Betsy is 13, Anna comes to live with the family.  And Anna brings two very magical things into Betsy’s life: Magic Wavers and freckle cream.  Both quickly become an integral part of her new beauty routine. 

After supper, Betsy telephone Tacy and Winona for prolonged conversations, then went upstairs to wind her hair on Magic Waers, take a warm bath some of Julia’s bath salts in it, and rub the new freckle cream into her face.  Wrapped in a kimono she sat down to manicure her nails.

But Betsy still doesn’t feel like she’s pretty.

“Oh, Tacy!” she said in a lowered voice.  “I wish I was prettier.”

“Why, Betsy, you’re plenty pretty enough.  You’re better than pretty.”

“I don’t want to be better than pretty.  I’m tired of being better than pretty.  Sweet looking!  Interesting looking!  Pooh for that!  I want to be plain pretty like you are.”

These girls, generations apart, are all struggling to be 13–right on the edge of being grown up, but not there yet.  Feeling not yet comfortable in their own skin, and definitely not pretty.  And everyone wants to grow up faster–to get through those awkwards years and on to the glamorous future.  And I think these struggles are a very large part of why these books remain popular today.  Who hasn’t been snarky about another girl’s fashion choices?  Who hasn’t wished they weren’t just one step closer to being grown up?  And though the standards of beauty have changed–from rogue being unheard of in Anne’s time, to only on one woman in town (Miss Mix) in Betsy’s time, to being something expected when you’re grown up in Mona’s time, the emotions and the feelings are the same.   A 13 year old girl just wants to be pretty.  And grown up.

ETA: Last night, after posting this, I was lying in bed, trying to sleep and realized that I had forgotten one of the best, funniest incidents of a teen girl struggling to be pretty: Anne dying her hair green!  How could I forget this?  I blame the cold.  At any rate, one of the recurring themes in Anne is her hatred of her red hair.  But when the peddler’s potion turns it green, it is one of the funnier moments in the books. 

“Dyed it!  Dyed your hair!  Anne Shirley, didn’t you know it was a wicked thing to do?”

“Yes, I knew it was a lilttle wicked,” admitted Anne.  “But I thought it was worth while to be a little wicked to get rid of red hair.  I counted thecost, Marilla.  Besides, I meant to be extra good in other ways to make up for it.”

The things we’ll all do, in those desperate attempts to be beautiful.  And yet, one of the signs of Anne growing up, besides talking a bit less, is that she comes to accept her hair.  It deepens a bit as she enters adulthood and becomes a “lovely shade of auburn.” I suppose patience is a virtue (I certainly got my curly hair), but boy, it certainly is hard to wait.