Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?

Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? by Avi, 1981.

One summer, Toby and his twin sister Becky see the police go to their local library. To the children’s surprise, Mrs. Brattle, the librarian, phones their house and asks Becky to come down to the library and bring one of her parents.  The children’s parents aren’t home, so Becky and Toby go.  Mrs. Brattle doesn’t seem to want to say much over the phone, only that The Wizard of Oz was stolen, and they need to talk to Becky.

As Becky and Toby walk down to the library from their house, which isn’t far, Becky says that shortly before school let out for the summer, Becky’s teacher for sixth grade next fall handed out a summer reading assignment.  The kids have to write two book reports over the summer, and the books can’t be mysteries, fantasies, or romantic adventures.  Miss McPhearson, the sixth grade teacher, believes in only factual books.  However, Becky decided that the best thing to do was to get the book reports over as soon as possible, so she went to the library.  (Toby wasn’t involved because he has a different teacher.)  While she was there, she decided that she’d check out The Wizard of Oz for Toby, knowing that he likes fantasy books, but she was told that it was already checked out.  Mrs. Brattle told her that there would be a book sale at the library tomorrow and that she had a copy of The Wizard of Oz that Becky could buy for five cents, but since the librarian wouldn’t sell her the book that day and Becky didn’t want to make a special trip to the library the next day, she turned down the offer.

When they come to the library, the policeman accuses Becky of stealing the copy of The Wizard of Oz that the librarian showed her as well as some other children’s books.  According to the librarian, the books were actually valuable collector’s copies, worth thousands of dollars.  Becky asks the librarian why she offered to sell her one for nickel if they were so valuable and Mrs. Brattle says that it was a mistake.  The policeman says that if Becky has the books, she can return them now, and there will be no problem, but Becky is insulted and insists that she didn’t take them.  In the face of Becky’s denial, the policeman says that there isn’t much that he can do because there is only the librarian’s word that the books were valuable, and she doesn’t deny that she earlier tried to sell them for five cents each.  Missing children’s books worth less than a dollar isn’t exactly a police problem.  (I’d like to say here that I was very glad that the policeman took that attitude. I hate those children’s books where adults not only falsely accuse children of doing things that they didn’t do but also make petty incidents seem like major crimes. The policeman is correct that there is no proof that the books were as valuable as the librarian says and that this evaluation of their worth comes only after their sudden disappearance and after she was offering to sell them very cheaply.)

Even though the matter seems to be dropped for the moment, it bothers Becky that the librarian still thinks that she might have taken the books.  She suggests to Toby that they could investigate and try to find out what really happened to the books.  The first thing that they decide to do is to look for the original owner of the books.  After inspecting other children’s books at the sale and looking at the names in the front covers, they decide that Gertrude Tobias is the most likely former owner because many of the other books at the sale belonged to her.  Unfortunately, Gertrude Tobias died a few months ago.  However, it turns out that her niece is Miss McPhearson.  Becky hurriedly finishes her book reports so that she and her brother will have an excuse to visit Miss McPhearson and ask her about the books.

When they ask Miss McPhearson about her aunt, she calls her aunt a “foolish woman” who “didn’t know any better.”  However, she refuses to explain any further what she means, and the children see her crying before they leave.

When the children speak to Mrs. Chesterton, they get a very different picture of Miss McPhearson’s aunt.  When Gertrude Tobias was a young woman, she was wealthy could have gotten married if she wanted to, but most of the young men didn’t like women who seemed too smart, and Miss Tobias prided herself on her intelligence and cleverness.  She resented the idea that adults seemed to want women to play dumb to get a husband, so she refused to get married and spent most of her time in the company of children.  Mrs. Chesterton remembers her saying, “Children like me smart. Grown-ups want me stupid.”  She liked to read children’s books, and she often volunteered to read books to children at the library.  The children liked her and often confided in her, just like she was their aunt.  She spent a lot of her money buying children’s books for her collection.  Mrs. Chesterton says that Miss Tobias and her niece never really got along well and that Miss McPhearson used to tease her aunt about her love of children’s books.  However, Miss Tobias was rich, and Miss McPhearson didn’t have much money at all.  Miss Tobias told her that she would leave her all of her “treasure.”  When she died, it turned out that she had left her niece five children’s books – the five that are now missing.  The others were willed to the library.

At first, the picture seems like it’s becoming more clear: Miss Tobias had one last joke on her niece by giving her valuable children’s books that Miss McPhearson thought were worthless simply because they were children’s books, and the person who took them recognized what they were worth.  However, the situation is actually more complicated than that.  A series of strange break-ins have been occurring around town. Nothing else has been taken, but someone is clearly searching for something.  Miss Tobias was clever, and her books have an even deeper meaning than most people have realized.  To learn Miss Tobias’ secret, Toby and Becky have to learn the secrets of the books themselves.

I really loved the puzzle in this book! There were parts that I got before the kids did and parts that they realized before I did. It isn’t a kind of puzzle that readers call fully solve before the characters in the book because it requires knowledge of their home town to get the full answer.

As an unmarried, childless adult who also enjoys children’s books, I could kind of sympathize with Miss Tobias. Children’s books, like some adults, are often very clever but go unappreciated by people who underrate them for what they appear to be. For example, Through the Looking Glass, which was one of the books featured in the story, involves a game of chess. The author, Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson), was a mathematician. His books are full of word games and logic puzzles, and the chess game described in Through the Looking Glass is an actual chess game that can be played with real pieces on a real board with a definite ending square, where Alice the pawn becomes Alice the queen (one of the clues to solving the final mystery in this book). To many adults who only know the basic story of Alice, it might just seem like a silly, nonsense children’s story, but they miss the real, clever puzzles planted in the story, just like Miss McPhearson did with her aunt’s legacy.

In the end of the story, Miss McPhearson never learns the truth about her aunt’s legacy, just as her aunt knew she would miss it. Toby and Becky come to an understanding with the real thief about Miss Tobias’ treasure that allows the library to benefit from the legacy, which is something that Miss Tobias would have appreciated. Miss McPhearson decides to give up teaching and leaves town to find another job, working with computers, a very “adult” field indeed. It’s only a pity that she wasn’t mature enough to behave nicely with her aunt and not tease her, so that her aunt would be more generous with her. People who play childish games are sometimes surprised when they meet a better game player.

Like Miss Tobias, I have little patience for people who try too hard to be “adult” or are too concerned with whether certain things are right for adults to do, especially when they show their immature sides in other ways. In the story, Miss McPhearson makes a point of being “adult” in all situations, but she wasn’t above childishly taunting an older woman about her hobbies and still expecting that woman to leave her all of her money. It reminds me of the kids I knew in elementary school who liked to act really grown up at age ten. Kids go through a phase where they start talking about doing grown-up things like having first boyfriends and girlfriends and wearing makeup and watching adult tv shows and listening to adult music, but in between doing all of that, they still act like childish brats because what they’re doing is trying on the trappings of adulthood without the real substance. Until they get some real maturity and better behavior, they’re just kids playing dress-up. Sometimes, I think that some people never quite leave that phase, which is how I view the character of Miss McPhearson.

I think of this every time I hear some adult my age or older talking about how real adults drink alcohol or real women wear high heels and lipstick. To hear them talk, there are quite a lot of rules to being grown up that very few people I know actually follow. Alcohol is expensive, plenty of people abstain for health or religious reasons, and driving drunk certainly isn’t mature behavior. High heels damage your feet the more you wear them, and I’ve forgotten how much makeup I’ve thrown away because, most days, I’m just too busy to even think about putting it on, and they eventually dry out and get gross. To my way of thinking, if you really are an adult and you know who and what you are, you have nothing to prove. If you aren’t mature as a person, things like high heels and lipstick aren’t going to help you, and alcohol just lowers your inhibitions and makes the immaturity more obvious. Maturity is a way of looking at things, assessing situations, and acting accordingly. It can be difficult to define, but you know it when you see someone living it, not just looking the part. Real adults don’t need to “act” like adults at all times because they aren’t “acting,” they’re just being themselves, confident that they are mature enough to handle what life throws at them along the way.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House

Cam Jansen

#13 Cam Jansen and the Mystery at the Haunted House by David Adler, 1986, 1992.

Cam’s Aunt Katie and Uncle George take Cam and her friend Eric to an amusement park.  When they stop to buy food at the refreshment stand, Aunt Katie realizes that her wallet is missing.  She isn’t even sure exactly when it disappeared.  Cam thinks that someone stole her aunt’s wallet.  Who could have taken it?

Cam thinks at first that it might have been a couple of boys on roller skates who ran into her aunt earlier, but it wasn’t them.  Cam notices that another woman is complaining about a lost wallet and realizes that she had gone through the haunted house just before they did.  Someone in the haunted house is taking people’s wallets!

When they all go through the haunted house a second time, Cam figures out that a man dressed in black has been stealing people’s wallets.  When they went through the haunted house the first time, he jumped out at them, and they thought that he was just a part of the attraction meant to scare them.  She spots the man leaving the haunted house and tells the park’s security guards.  Everyone gets their wallets back, and the park’s owner gives Cam four free passes to the park for a month.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive.

Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds

Cam Jansen

#1 Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds by David A. Adler, 1980.

This book is the first in the Cam Jansen series, introducing readers to her amazing photographic memory. Cam’s real name is Jennifer, but when people discovered her photographic memory, they started calling her “The Camera,” which was later shortened to Cam. When Cam wants to remember something, she says “click,” which she says is the sound that her mental camera makes.

While Cam is at the mall with her friend, Eric, and his baby brother, Howie, a jewelry store is robbed.  The thief got away with some diamonds.  Although the police caught the man who ran away from the scene of the crime, the people who witnessed the crime say that he was not the thief.  As Cam goes over the pictures in her mind, she realizes that something strange is going on.

Partly, Eric and Howie give Cam the clue that she needs to solve the mystery. Cam is an only child, but as she watches Eric taking care of Howie, she realizes how much stuff a baby needs. Howie has an entire diaper bag full of supplies. However, a couple who left the jewelry store earlier appeared to have only a baby in a blanket and a rattle. Cam realizes that a couple with a real baby should have been carrying more than that.

The man and woman with the “baby” were the running man’s accomplices. It was that man who actually committed the crime.  The other man who ran was a distraction.  The couple carried a doll and pretended it was their baby.  They hid the diamonds in the baby’s rattle.  Cam realizes that they were strange because they didn’t have a diaper bag or anything else with them that parents would normally carry around for their baby, like the bag that Eric’s mother has for Howie. 

Cam and Eric follow the thieves to their hideout and then get the police, although there is a tense scene where Cam is caught by the thieves, and she must hide with Howie until the police arrive.

The book is currently available to borrow online for free through Internet Archive.

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, 1991.

When little Chrysanthemum was born, her parents chose Chrysanthemum as her name because it just seemed perfect, as perfect as their little girl. As Chrysanthemum grew up, she loved her name, and she thought that it was perfect, too.

However, when Chrysanthemum starts school, the other kids point out how unusual her name is. Most of them have much shorter names. Chrysanthemum’s name is so long that it doesn’t really fit on her name tag. One girl, Victoria, is particularly mean about Chrysanthemum’s name, making fun of her whenever she can and encouraging other children to make fun of her.

For the first time in her life, Chrysanthemum starts hating her name. She wishes that she had a much shorter name, like Jane. Her parents comfort her and tell her that the other kids are probably just jealous, but their repeated teasing really bothers her.

Then, the children have music lessons at school with Mrs. Twinkle. Mrs. Twinkle is a fun teacher, and the kids are excited about her class. She gives the children roles to play in a class musicale, and Chrysanthemum is cast as a daisy. When the other kids laugh about her playing a different type of flower, Mrs. Twinkle asks them what’s so funny.

The other kids explain about Chrysanthemum’s name and that they think it’s funny because it’s so long and weird. That’s when Mrs. Twinkle tells them that her first name is Delphinium – another long, unusual flower name! She says that she really likes the name Chrysanthemum, and since she’s expecting a baby, she might name the baby Chrysanthemum if it turns out to be a girl. Suddenly, the other girls in class envy Chrysanthemum and wish they had flower names, too!

In the short epilogue at the back of the book, the baby does turn out to be a girl, and Mrs. Twinkle names her Chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum also gets a laugh at Victoria’s expense when the class puts on their musicale, and Victoria completely forgets her lines.

It’s a nice book, and I appreciate some of the messages now even more than when I first read it when I was a kid. Now that I’m an adult, I know that Chrysanthemum’s name isn’t the real reason why Victoria picks on Chrysanthemum. Victoria is mean basically because Victoria is a mean person. Kids who want to bully others make the decision to bully first and then pick something to bully about second. From what I’ve seen, they’re usually out to make fun of someone or make someone mad just to do it, and they don’t really care how or why. Chrysanthemum’s unusual name was just a convenient thing for Victoria to single out and use for her bullying. If she hadn’t had that name, Victoria would have picked on her (or maybe some other, more convenient target) for something else. Maybe it would have been someone’s clothes. Maybe it would have been the way someone walks or the way someone talks or their hair or their eyes or the fact that they have fingernails or breathe air or take up physical space … you get the idea. Victoria is the way she is because that’s what she is and what she wants to be, and she doesn’t see any need to change until the end of the story. (Even then, she may be back to bully again over something different because she hasn’t yet learned not to bully in general, just not over that particular thing.)

My point is that the way Victoria is has nothing to do with Chrysanthemum and her name. I’ve heard parents who are considering names for their children working hard to pick names that can’t be used for teasing, and sometimes, it can help. However, at the same time, bullies are basically going to bully because that’s who they are and what they do, and most importantly, it’s what they want to do. They’ll find something to bully about anyway because they’re always intentionally looking for something to bully about.

For a time, because of Victoria’s meanness and bullying, Chrysanthemum’s enjoyment of her name is ruined. She even feels like Victoria is destroying her sense of identity. At one point, she has a nightmare that she is actually a Chrysanthemum flower and that Victoria plucks her petals, picking at her and picking at her and picking at her until there’s nothing left. That’s the kind of effect that bullies have on people, which is why I have such contempt for them. They ruin things, even really fun and cool things like a colorful name, and make people unhappy just by being the kind of people they are. (If you’ve read my other reviews of books with bullies, you’ve already heard that I have very strong feelings about this subject and absolutely no patience or sympathy for bullies.)

But, fortunately, the book takes a very positive tone and points out that Chrysanthemum’s name is not really ruined by Victoria’s meanness. Chrysanthemum’s music teacher also has a really unusual flower name, and naming her baby Chrysanthemum as well gives Chrysanthemum new status among the kids at school, to the point where some of them, including Victoria, wish that they also had flower names of the kind that might inspire someone to name their baby after them. Mrs. Twinkle is a fun and different kind of teacher, and her fun and different name fits her personality. Although it hasn’t occurred to the other kids yet, the world would be a pretty drab place without colorful and unusual people. The Victorias and Janes of the world may have very proper names and are reassuringly ordinary, but the Delphiniums and Chrysanthemums are the ones who bring color and excitement to life. So, although I wouldn’t deliberately give a child a name that might leave them open to teasing, I don’t see a need to go overboard and reject some of the fun names that are just a bit unusual. Different is good, and it should be appreciated for what it is, not for what a bully may or may not be able to say about it when they’re trying to be mean. (They’ll find something else to bully and complain about two seconds later anyway, so why bother considering them for longer than that?)

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive. It is part of Mouse Books series.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes, 1996.

Lilly loves going to school, and she especially loves her teacher, Mr. Slinger. Everyone in class thinks that he’s great, and he inspires a lot of them, including Lilly, to want to be teachers themselves.

One day, after a special shopping trip with her grandmother, Lilly gains a some special new treasures: movie star sunglasses, some quarters, and a purple plastic purse that plays a tune when she opens it. Eager to show off her new things to her friends, Lilly brings them to school. However, she just can’t wait until recess or Sharing Time to show everyone. She keeps trying to draw attention to these things while the teacher is talking and opening the purse so it keeps playing its tune.

Finally, after repeated warnings, Mr. Slinger is forced to confiscate Lilly’s purse with its other treasures. Lilly is hurt and feels betrayed by her favorite teacher. Sad and angry at having her treasures taken from her, she draws a mean picture of her teacher as a purse thief, leaving the picture where she knows he will find it.

However, Mr. Slinger isn’t as mean as Lilly thinks that he is when he takes her purse. After he gives the purse back to her, she discovers a nice note from him inside, telling her that tomorrow will be a better day, and there’s even a little bag of snacks. Now, Lilly feels guilty about her mean picture. It’s too late to get it back, and she worries that her teacher will never forgive her.

The story is really good at showing how Lilly’s emotions change through the course of the day and how her sadness and anger grow more urgent the more she thinks and worries about them. It’s a good story to use when talking about feelings with young children (through the course of the story, Lilly is happy, excited, sad, betrayed, angry, guilty, worried, and embarrassed – some of these are stated explicitly and some are more implied) and how to deal with emotions. Adults can talk to children how one kind of emotion can lead to another (like how Lilly’s sadness turns to anger at her teacher for making her feel sad by confiscating her purse) and how some ways of dealing with emotions are better than others. It is both creative and appropriate that Lilly used her drawing ability to both insult her teacher and, later, apologize to him.

Fortunately, both Lilly’s parents and her teacher are very understanding. Her parents reassure her that her teacher will forgive her. Lilly draws a new, nicer picture of her teacher to go with her apology to him, and her parents give her some snacks to give to him as well. He does forgive her, and she finally gets to show everyone her amazing purple plastic purse at Sharing Time (being careful not to disturb anyone with them at other times.

The book is currently available online through Internet Archive. It is part of Mouse Books series.

Norma Jean, Jumping Bean

NormaJeanJumpingBean

Norma Jean, Jumping Bean by Joanna Cole, 1987.

Norma Jean, a kangaroo, loves to jump!  She goes hopping and jumping everywhere, all the time.

NormaJeanJumpSchool

It’s pretty normal for a young kangaroo, but it sometimes causes problems.  She keeps wanting to jump when her teacher wants her to sit still and and listen.  Sometimes, accidents happen because she’s jumping around.

NormaJeanLunch

Without meaning to, she sometimes plays too rough with her friends because she has so much energy.  One day, when her friends stop wanting to play with her after a series of disasters, Norma Jean decides that the only thing to do is to give up jumping.  It makes her sad, but she doesn’t want to be thought of as a rough, clumsy klutz, who can’t sit still – a jumping bean.

NormaJeanSad

But, with the school’s field day coming up, Norma Jean realizes that jumping is okay, at certain times and certain places.

NormaJeanFieldDay

The School at the Chalet

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer, 1925.

This is the first book in the Chalet School Series.  This series is uncommon in the United States.  People from Britain or countries with heavy British influence would be more familiar with this series.  It’s considered classic!

When the story begins, Madge and Dick Bettany, who are brother and sister, a set of twins, are discussing their family’s situation.  Their parents are dead, and they have very little money and no family members they can rely on.  Madge and Dick are grown and are ready to begin making their own way in the world, but their younger sister, called Joey, is still a child, and her heath has been poor.  Dick has a job, but he really can’t afford to support his sisters.  However, Madge has had an idea: she wants to start a school.  Dick worries that they don’t have the capital necessary to start a school, but Madge says that she could start one in continental Europe instead of England, where they are from, because the costs would be lower.  She even has a specific place in mind, a chalet near a lake, close to a town called Innsbruck in the Tiernsee (Austria).  Joey could live with her at the school and continue her education in the company of the other students, and Madge thinks that the climate there might even be better for her than England.  She has already written a letter to find out if the chalet is available, and it is.  If they sell most of what they own in England, Madge thinks that they’ll have enough to buy what they need in Europe.  Madge says that she thinks she could handle about a dozen girls, between the ages of twelve and fourteen or fifteen.  She knows someone who could help her teach, Mademoiselle Lepattre, and between them, they are qualified to teach French, German, sewing, and music.  Dick is still a little concerned about whether or not Madge can pull off the school, but he agrees that she should go ahead with her plans (since she likely will anyway) and says that if she runs into trouble, she should contact him for help.

Madge even knows who her first pupil at the boarding school will be: Grizel Cochrane.  Madge has already had her as a student, and she is friends with her family.  She knows that Grizel has been unhappy at home since her father remarried because she and her stepmother do not get along.  Grizel’s stepmother has already been pressuring her father to send her away to boarding school, but he loves her and has been reluctant to part with her.  However, Grizel has been miserable, and her father decides would be more willing to send her away with someone he already knows.  Grizel is pleased at the idea of joining Madge and Joey at a school in Europe, and the Madge gains her first student.

Dick and Mademoiselle Lepattre go to the chalet first to take the larger trunks and belongings and begin getting settled, while Madge, Joey, and Grizel follow them.  Along the way, they see some of the sights of Paris.  By the time they arrive at the chalet, Mademoiselle Lepattre’s young cousin, Simone Lecoutier, has arrived at the school to be a pupil, and Madge has arranged to accept an American girl named Evadne Lannis, who will arrive later.  These four girls, Joey, Grizel, Simone, and Evadne, are the school’s first boarders.  The school soon acquires a few day pupils who live nearby: Gisela and Maria Marani (a pair of sisters), Gertrud Steinbrucke, Bette Rincini, Bernhilda and Frieda Mensch (also sisters).  Maria is much younger than the other girls, only nine, but her mother asked that she be admitted along with her older sister. There are public schools for children in Innsbruck, but the father of one of the new local pupils thinks that the Chalet School might be healthier for his daughter because, while he doesn’t think much of English educational standards (Grizel takes exception to that comment), they shorten the school day (compared to the average school day of Austria or Germany of the time) and encourage participation in sports and games. The local girls are curious to see what things are going to be like at an English style school, and if it will be like other English schools they’ve heard about.  The school also soon gains more students and boarders:

  • Margia and Amy Stevens – ages 8 and 11, their father is a foreign correspondent from London who needs to travel for his work, and the girls’ parents wanted to find a stable place for the girls to stay.
  • Bette Rincini’s cousins, who have come to stay with her family
  • A pair of sisters from another town across the lake
  • Two more children from a nearby hotel
  • Friends of Gisela from Vienna
  • Rosalie and Mary, two girls Joey and Grizel know from England

As the school grows and the girls settle into life at the school, they make friends with each other, although it’s awkward in some cases.  Madge notices that Simone is often by herself and she asks Joey if she and the other girls are being nice to her.  Joey says that they try, but Simone often sneaks off alone, and she doesn’t know where Simone goes.  Joey tries to ask Simone if she’s unhappy, and Simone tries to deny it.  The truth is that Simone is really homesick.  Joey finds her crying by herself later and comforts her, and Simone finally admits how much she misses her mother.  Simone also says that she feels left out because everyone else at the school has someone to be close to.  Other girls at the school share nationalities with at least some of the other students.  Simone is the only French girl at the school.  The Austrian girls are close to home, and Joey and Grizel already knew each other before they left England.  Seeing the other girls being such close friends makes her feel more left out.  Joey apologizes for making Simone feel left out and assures her that she will be her friend.  Simone asks her to be her best friend because she really needs someone to confide in, and Joey agrees, although she finds Simone rather needy and clingy. 

It turns out to be a difficult promise because Simone gets very jealous when Joey makes friends with other girls, and she tries to convince Joey to only be friends with her.  Simone is very dramatic, and she even ends up cutting off her long braid in an effort to impress Joey and get her attention when she learns about the other girls who will be coming from England.  Simone is so desperately lonely and finds it so difficult to make new friends that she is terrified that Joey will abandon her completely when she has other friends.  Joey gets fed up with her behavior and tells her that she’s being selfish. Joey knows that Simone would find it easier to make more friends herself if she would stop moping and being sad and gloomy.

After Juliet Carrick, another English girl, joins the school, Gisela is made head girl, and other girls are made prefects.  Bette is a sub-prefect, and one day, when she tells Grizel to put her shoes away, Grizel is rude to her, and Juliet laughs.  Gisela and the prefects discuss the situation and agree that Grizel, who wasn’t causing problems before, is now acting up because Juliet thinks that it’s funny.  When Gisela sends someone to bring Grizel to the prefects’ room to talk about it, Grizel refuses to come and see them, and she realizes that something needs to be done.  If the head girl and prefects let a girl get away with disrespecting them or not following the rules, the prefect system and student government would fall apart.  Grizel feels a kinship for Juliet because neither of them has a happy home life. Juliet has been raised to believe that the English are superior to everyone else, and she has no shame in showing it.  Juliet encourages Grizel to adopt her prejudices, but at a school in Austria with students of varying nationalities, that can’t be allowed.  Madge supports the prefects, and Grizel is punished for her behavior.

Juliet is still a bad influence, sometimes encouraging other girls to act up with her. When Madge refuses to allow the girls to pose by the lake for some film makers, Juliet convinces some of other girls to sneak away with her and volunteer to be filmed without Madge’s knowledge.  However, the father of one of the local girls catches them. He explains to the film makers that it would be inappropriate to film the girls because they don’t have permission from either the girls’ parents or teachers, and he takes the girls back to the school.  Grizel’s temper and excessive patriotism also get the girls into trouble when they encounter a German tourist who makes it plain that she is disgusted at the presence of the English girls. (This is after The Great War, World War I, so that may be the reason.)  While the German woman was being deliberately rude and insulting to the girls, Joey points out that Grizel’s hot-headed reply to her has now caused them more trouble.  Grizel does apologize for not using more restraint.

Juliet’s home life turns out to be even worse than the other girls know, but they learn the truth when Juliet’s father sends a letter to Madge saying that he and his wife relinquish their custody of Juliet to the school.  The letter says that Madge can do whatever she likes with Juliet.  If she wants to keep Juliet at the school and have her work for her future tuition, that will be fine, and she is also free to send Juliet to an orphanage.  The point is that her parents have left the country, they consider Juliet a burden that they would rather not bring with them, and while they might one day feel able to reclaim her, chances of that are not looking good.  When Juliet learns about the letter, she cries and says that she had been afraid that they would do something like this.  Her parents tried to abandon her at a different school once before, but the school had insisted that they take her back.  Madge now has no idea where Juliet’s parents are.  However, she can’t bear to turn Juliet over to an orphanage, so she promises Juliet that she will keep her and that she can help to pay for her tuition by working with the younger children at the school.  Although Juliet’s behavior hasn’t been very good up to this point, Juliet is grateful to Madge and does earnestly try to please her and to maintain her place at the school. Before the end of the book, Juliet’s parents die in an automobile accident, giving Madge and the school permanent custody of her. Most of the other students (except for Joey) do not know that Juliet’s parents tried to abandon her before they died.

Through the rest of the book, the girls have adventures together and forge the new traditions of their school.  They celebrate Madge’s birthday, get stranded in a storm and have to spend the night in a cowshed, start a magazine for the school, and play pranks on each other. When Grizel’s pranks and disobedience go too far and she is punished harshly for it, she gets angry and runs away from the school, becoming stranded on a nearby mountain. Joey goes after her to save her, and both girls are ill after their experience.

The book ends with Madge and a few of the girls caught in a train accident. Fortunately, they escape the accident without serious injury, and they also manage to help the German woman who had insulted the girls earlier. A man named James Russell helps them. The book ends at this point, and the story continues in the next. James Russell is a significant continuing character.

The book is currently available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive.

Sixteen and Away from Home

Sixteen and Away from Home by Arleta Richardson, 1985.

The year is 1889. Mabel O’Dell turns 16 years old at the beginning of the book, and her mother gives her a journal as a present. Soon, she and her best friend, Sarah Jane Clark, will be starting the final years of their education at the academy in town. Mabel worries about going to the academy, first whether they’ll pass the entrance exams, and then whether they’ll be homesick because they will have to board in town. Sarah Jane assures her that it will be okay because they’ll be going together and they’ll probably be too busy at school to think about homesickness much. Mabel’s mother is a little worried about the foolishness that young women can get into when they’re on their own. However, the girls do pass their exams and are admitted to the academy, and their parents agree to let them go.

In town, the girls will be staying with Sarah Jane’s Aunt Rhoda. Aunt Rhoda’s housekeeper, Lettie, seems to resent the girls being there for reasons they don’t understand.

When school begins, the girls are shocked to learn that they’ll have to wear bloomers for “physical culture” classes. The teacher gives them a sewing pattern so they can make the uniform themselves. The girls imagine that their parents would be shocked to see them running around without skirts on.

Fortunately, Mabel and Sarah Jane will have all the same classes, along with all of the other first year students. They have to take Grammar and Rhetoric, Biology, Latin, History, Calculus, and Physical Culture (physical education or PE).

They also quickly realize that the class troublemaker is going to be Clarice Owens, who unfortunately sits near Mabel because they all sit in alphabetical order by last name. Clarice deliberately picks on Mabel and Sarah Jane for coming from the countryside, calling them hayseeds. Mabel is disgusted because she can never think of a good comeback until after Clarice walks away (Yeah, I’ve been there before). Sarah Jane thinks she’s jealous of Mabel for being prettier. Mabel doesn’t really believe that, but she appreciates the thought. Molly, one of the other town girls, is friendlier. She says that she knows Clarice has always thought she was better than everyone, but she’s not usually this deliberately mean. Mabel says that maybe it would help if they knew the reason.

Through the rest of the school year, Clarice tries one scheme after another to cause trouble for the girls, especially Mabel. Mabel tries to be as patient as she can with Clarice, trying to let her know that she’d rather be a friend than an enemy, but Clarice gets angry and upset when Mabel tells her that she forgives her for all the awful stuff she does. Mabel thinks that there’s something hurting Clarice and affecting her behavior, although Molly tells her that she shouldn’t waste her sympathy on Clarice because “she gets what she wants.” Molly thinks that they should just be grateful for those times when Clarice isn’t immediately stepping on them to get what she wants because that happens, too.

When Mabel is injured in a sledding accident and has to stay in bed for awhile, she worries about falling behind in her classes. Lettie talks to her and brings into question the reason why she’s so concerned about her standing in class. Is it really because she loves learning, or is it because she’s trying to compete with the other students? Mabel starts to consider how too much competition can spoil a person’s attitude and take the enjoyment out of things. Competition has much to do with Clarice and her attitude.

Things get worse when Clarice’s grandmother becomes ill and her parents arrange for her to stay in the house with Mabel and Sarah Jane while they go to see her grandmother. Clarice is rude to the servants in Aunt Rhoda’s house and sneaks out of the house during the night. Lettie tells the girls that Clarice’s mother was strong-willed as a girl, and she’s given a lot of her attitude to Clarice. There was a boy that Clarice’s mother had always wanted for herself, but he married someone else, and although Clarice’s mother also married and had a child, she never completely got over losing her first choice to someone else. Since the man she originally loved has a son the age of her daughter, Russell Bradley, she might be hoping that Clarice will marry him. Clarice certainly is interested is Russ … who is apparently more interested in Mabel.

Mabel considers that allowing Clarice to be with Russ and not trying to compete with her would help settle things between them, but as Sarah Jane says, Russ’s feelings on the issue matter. The problem with Clarice and her mother and their attitudes and expectations is that they do not take anyone else’s feelings into account other than their own and don’t even inform people of what they really want, yet they expect everyone else to somehow accommodate their wishes and feel toward them exactly how they want them to feel. These are not reasonable expectations at all. For most of the book, Mabel is completely unaware that Clarice’s meanness comes from the fact that she sees her as competition, and even then, it’s not really clear at first what Clarice is trying to compete for. Mabel didn’t ask or agree to be Clarice’s competitor in anything, and she’s not even trying to be. In fact, she’s been trying everything that she can to avoid it. Russ also apparently has no idea what Clarice is really after because he doesn’t have the same feelings about Clarice that she has about him. He’s just trying to live his life and focus on his own feelings and interests, and as far as he’s concerned, Clarice doesn’t really enter into it. Russ has no obligations to Clarice and her mother, and even Mabel doesn’t have the right to tell him how to feel or what to do to get rid of Clarice’s ire. When Clarice pulls one last trick on Mabel, and she still forgives her, Clarice finally tells her that she gives up because, “You can’t go on disliking someone who refuses to be disliked.”

I have to admit that I found the end to be a bit unbelievable. I’ve never encountered anybody who was that much of a pain and who ever let someone else’s kind behavior stand in the way being a pain. The response that I’ve usually seen is that they congratulate themselves on finding someone who’s never going to fight back and use that opportunity to run roughshod over them. They usually blame the kind person for making it easy to take advantage of them. As even the book says, people cannot decide how anyone else should feel or force them to feel anything in particular. It just doesn’t work. Mabel cannot “refuse to be disliked” because what Clarice likes or dislikes is all in her own mind. All that Mabel can decide is how she feels and what she’s going to do about it. What Mabel really does is decide that, whether she likes or dislikes Clarice, she’s not going to compete with her and try to fight or match her meanness. It isn’t so much a matter of dislikes in the end as Clarice discovering that she’s running a race with no other runners. If there’s no one to race against, there isn’t really a race, and no one cares if you walk off with the trophy or not. Maybe there was never even a trophy there to begin with.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, I don’t like bullying or one-upmanship, and I have no interest in sympathizing with anyone who does those things. Part of the trouble I have with overly-competitive personality traits is the same trouble that actors sometimes suffer when they’re out in public: they don’t always know when to stop acting, stop posing, stop performing, stop competing. Where does the one-upmanship end and the person actually begin? Or is that their personality all by itself? (I was reading this article recently, about how trying to keep up an image all the time too often leads to a person having no real substance or sense of self.) Clarice doesn’t present much to connect with or sympathize with. Clarice doesn’t really seem like a real person to me. She’s rather a one-dimensional character. This is a problem with a lot of bullies in children’s books. She apparently has very generic family issues that are supposed to explain her behavior with little insight into how she really feels about anything. At least, that was how she seemed to me.

I wouldn’t have nearly as much patience with her as Mabel because, when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t see Clarice’s friendship as a prize worth winning. Mabel went through quite a lot to get through to Clarice, but her efforts only pay off right before the end of the book, so we don’t really see much of what Clarice is like after she says that she’s giving up the competitive mean girl act. Apparently, Mabel will get the benefit of not having to put up with Clarice’s mean tricks from now on, which is something, but if Clarice isn’t being mean and sneaky, what is she? Who is she, really?

In real life, people have hobbies, interests, and life goals, but Clarice doesn’t seem to have much that really interests her. Are Clarice’s goals really hers or her mother’s, as they hint? What does Clarice want, or has she even thought about what she wants? In modern times, a sixteen-year-old still has years of education ahead of her because more people attend college these days, but once Clarice finishes at the academy in town, her education is likely over. She only has a couple of years left to think about her life before she has to get on and live it as a full adult. Even if her destiny seems to be someone’s wife and mother, connecting with someone emotionally to the point where they would want to be married and sharing a life would be difficult for someone who has no real interests to connect to or a sense of how to build a shared life with someone else. For a while, she seemed to do well at memorizing the reading from Alice in Wonderland that she was going to perform with Mabel at the end of the school year, but that was just another part of her tricks so that she could back out at the last minute and let Mabel down. It was all part of an act by itself. Does Clarice really like acting? Does she like books? Does she like anything?

Clarice doesn’t even seem to have any close friends of her own, which is very unlike the real-life bullies I’ve known. Most of them do have friends and hangers-on who enjoy their mean humor (the thing that often binds them together and bolsters their bad behavior) or put up with it because of some other benefit they get from that friendship, but Clarice doesn’t seem to have anybody and isn’t really offering anything. It just doesn’t seem realistic and makes me feel like Clarice is there mostly to be the cardboard cut-out of a nemesis. That may be why she gives up so easily in the end.

I would have found her change more believable if Russ had straight-up told her that her mean tricks and selfish attitude are the reasons why he doesn’t like her and isn’t interested in her. That would have been motivation for Clarice to change because it would give her both something to lose by not changing (Russ and others getting angry and saying they’ve had enough of her attitude) and something to gain by taking on different habits (like the possibility that Russ might change his mind if she can demonstrate that she can do as many unselfish deeds as Mabel, something that might actually appeal to Clarice’s competitive personality). I would also have found it believable if Clarice changed her mind about Russ because she ultimately realized that Russ is what her mother wants for her, not what she wants for herself, and that there are other possibilities that she likes better. I would also have liked it if Clarice had been planning to back out on the reading of Alice in Wonderland in order to ruin the presentation for Mabel but changed her mind at the last minute because she realized that she loves the story or performing so much that she just can’t bring herself to miss the event, that she has found something that she loves doing more than causing problems for someone else. Reassessing the consequences of behavior or finding different goals are the kinds of self-motivation that provoke real people to change.

On the other hand, maybe the real issue is Clarice has sensed that she’s fighting a losing battle for Russ, and as Sarah Jane noted, you can’t control the way other people feel. If Russ doesn’t love Clarice, he’s just not going to love her. Perhaps she can tell, even when he’s with her, that he’s not thinking of her and just isn’t going to be interested in her the way she is with him. There’s only so much effort that a person can pour into getting someone’s attention before it starts to get really awkward when they don’t get the attention they’re looking for. Even if Russ doesn’t spell it out for her, she can probably tell that she doesn’t want to be with someone who clearly doesn’t want to be with her. Clarice still might not know quite what she really wants yet, but she might have figured out that’s one thing she doesn’t want, to be with someone who doesn’t think of her as his first choice or even much of a choice at all. All along, she’s been trying to compete with someone who doesn’t even want to compete for a prize that doesn’t want to be won by her because he’s already picking another winner. It brings us back to the idea of one person, attempting to run a race all alone. It’s not really a race, it’s just one person running down the street, getting sweaty and tired, with no real prize to win, and who is there to care when they start or stop? That might actually be the most believable explanation of them all.

As the characters discuss the problem of Clarice and other situations, they often turn to the Bible for inspiration, sometimes discussing specific quotes that relate to the concepts they consider, like forgiveness and revenge.

I liked the description of the Halloween party activities. I was born around Halloween, and I often have a Halloween-themed birthday party. I’m sometimes fascinated by the traditions of Halloweens past. In the book, they call it a Halloween party, but the activities are more harvest-themed than spooky. They bob for apples and run races with apples balanced on their heads, and they also play tug-of-war and Skip to My Lou.

The book is part of the Grandma’s Attic series. It is available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive.

Honesty and Plagiarism

I want to talk about the subjects of honesty and plagiarism because a site that just liked one of my posts and now wants to follow my blog has made me aware that we need to have this discussion. It’s very nice that you just liked a post of mine, but the feeling isn’t mutual.

I don’t want to mention this site’s name or provide a link to it, but I want to explain that this is one of those businesses that sells essays to students so that they don’t have to write their own. Whether or not this type of business is allowed to operate isn’t my decision, but I don’t support it. This isn’t the kind of attention I want or the type of friends I really want to have.

I describe the plots of many vintage children’s books, including some that are used in schools, but I’m not doing this so that students can avoid doing their own work, or worse, trying to claim credit for work done by someone else. (Hint: I say a lot about what goes on in these stories, but I haven’t told you how much I’m not saying. There are always details of these stories that you won’t find in my reviews, and teachers will know what I’ve left out.) If a child (or adult college student) learns nothing else from their education, it should be that they, and they alone, are responsible for their own work. Accepting responsibility is part of adulthood, and the sooner you get used to it, the better. A person who copies the ideas and opinions of someone else or pays someone else to come up with ideas for them is either a person who has no ideas or opinions of their own or lacks the ability or guts to say them. I’ve been a busy college student myself, with honors classes and a job, but no matter how busy I was, I never lacked the time to do what I knew I needed to do, show what I learned because I really did learn things, and share my own thoughts about it all because I always had plenty of thoughts to share. People make time for what’s important to them, and if thinking and doing work aren’t important, it says a lot about your character. A student who can’t or doesn’t want to do these things might want to take some time to consider why they’re in school in the first place, especially at the college level.

College requires an enormous amount of time and money, and one of the main purposes behind it is to open your mind to new ideas and broader aspects of life and the rest of the world. It’s ironic, when you consider that was one of the main themes of Daddy-Long-Legs, and I discussed that in my post, the very post that this essay-selling business liked. I strongly suspect that, just like their clients don’t want to do their own reading or homework, this site didn’t do its reading or homework when it picked which post to like. Probably, they just picked up on the “college” keyword in that post and didn’t read any further than that. I can’t say that I’m really surprised. But, that being the case, they’re probably too lazy to read the rest of what I have to say about this as well. That’s not going to stop me from saying it.

Not taking a full part in the classes that make up college life is a lot like paying for tickets to a concert just to get your hand stamped at the door when you know that you’re not going to stay to listen to the music. All of the monetary investment, a portion of the time investment, and none of the benefit from doing any of it. Sure, you can gain some time by paying someone to do your work for you and maybe a fancy piece of paper that says you did well when you didn’t (assuming that you can pull it off), but your favorite essay-writing business isn’t going to be there for you when you’re out in the real world. You can’t always pay someone to do all your work or your thinking for you, and there are often some solid reasons not to. People don’t have much respect for someone who can’t handle their own work or do their own thinking, and these people aren’t doing you any favors. At some point, you need to face the music.

There’s also the question of stealing. Plagiarism is basically stealing someone else’s thoughts and ideas, and not having any of your own isn’t much of an excuse for doing that. When you use someone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit, it’s a form of theft because you have taken something that didn’t belong to you, something made by another person through their time and effort.

It takes me a long time to read all of these books and write about them, and I do it because I enjoy discussing them (and because I’m studying web design and wanted an excuse to set up a new website on a topic that I knew I could discuss so I could play with the features of WordPress). I am not being paid to do this, by anyone. I have not made any money off it. I want to make it clear that no one should be making a profit off of my words here by selling them to anyone else or reprinting them under someone else’s name. I have not sold any of my words, reviews, or essays to anyone. I have not given anyone permission to use my reviews in their name. I will never grant permission to anyone to use these reviews under someone else’s name, and I am not interested in selling them for that purpose.

I don’t mind if people cite my reviews in other book discussions on other blogs, and I allow reblogs of some of my posts for that purpose. I often link to other people’s work to provide more information about certain topics, and I expect links to my work now and then by others who are discussing the same topics. I like people giving me suggestions for books to review, but the reviews themselves are still all mine. I would resent anyone who attempted to claim credit for my work, whether they made a profit from it or not.

I would also like to point out that copying my reviews in an attempt to get out of class book reports would also not be very smart. Finding my reviews isn’t that hard because that’s what I’ve been aiming for all along. The best web designers want people to see their work, as many people as possible. Anyone who can see the WordPress Reader can see my work, which is how this essay-writing business found me in the first place. My posts also show up in Google search results, and some of them are among the first that show up for certain books. I’ve been studying SEO as part of my web design studies, and I have further plans to improve my standing in search results. Remember, this site was built for the purposes of experimentation, and I’m always making improvements so that I can show off what I’ve been learning. If you didn’t think of that, understand that I did. I’m not the kind of person who pays someone else to think for me, and I know how to actually do my own work. Know who else can do that? Any teacher who knows how to put a phrase or sentence into Google and see what comes up. I’m making it as easy for them to find me as possible. I’ll be sure to say hi if your teacher contacts me, and I would be happy to discuss all of this with him/her honestly.

Addition: So, the essay writing service keeps trying to follow this blog. I’ve kicked off the follow three times already, and it’s only been two days. Sigh. I think this is my life now. Not only that, but this idiot can’t even spell his own name right. What kind of fool sells writing for a living and can’t even spell his own stupid name? Actually, a better question is, what kind of fool pays someone for writing when that person can’t even spell his own stupid name?

Maybe some questions answer themselves.

Daddy-Long-Legs

Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, 1912.

Seventeen-year-old Jerusha Abbott has spent her entire life at the John Greer Home for orphans. She has no memory of her parents and no experience of life outside the orphanage. Usually, when an orphan has not been adopted and has finished his or her education at the basic level provided by the orphanage, which does not always include high school, the orphanage and its trustees arrange for the child to be placed in a job so he or she can begin earning a living. Jerusha Abbott has stayed longer than most. She is bright and finished her studies early, so she was allowed to attend the local high school, helping out with some of the younger children at the orphanage to help earn her keep. However, now that she is about to graduate from high school, the orphanage and trustees has been trying to decide what to do with her. After the most recent meeting of the trustees, the matron of the orphanage calls Jerusha into her office to tell them what they have decided.

Jerusha has done well in high school, and her teachers have given her excellent reports. In particular, Jerusha has excelled in English class. One of her essays for English class, entitled “Blue Wednesday,” is a humorous piece about the difficulties Jerusha has preparing the young orphans in her charge for the monthly visits of the trustees: getting them nicely dressed, combing their hair, wiping runny noses, and trying to make sure that they all behave nicely and politely to the trustees. Jerusha hadn’t expected the matron or the trustees to ever read it. The matron thought that the essay was too flippant and showed ingratitude toward the orphanage that raised her, but one of the trustees in particular appreciated the quality of writing and the humor of the piece. This particular trustee is one of the wealthiest, although he usually prefers to remain anonymous about his donations and uses the alias “John Smith.” “John Smith” has helped some of the boys leaving the orphanage by funding their college educations, but so far, he has not done the same for any of the girls, not apparently thinking much of girls or their continued education. Jerusha Abbott and her essay cause him to change his mind. He thinks that Jerusha Abbott could make a great writer, and he is willing to fund her college education. Although the matron thinks that he’s being overly generous with Jerusha, he has arranged to pay for her college tuition and boarding at an all-girls college and will even provide her with a regular allowance like the other students at college will have from their parents. In return, he still wants to remain anonymous and doesn’t want to be embarrassed with too much thanks, but he does insist that Jerusha write monthly letters to him, updating him about her progress in school and what is happening in her daily life. Not only is he interested in her progress, but he also thinks that the letters will provide her with good writing experience.

Most of the book, aside from the early part that explains about Jerusha’s past and how she is able to attend college, is in the form of Jerusha’s letters to her mysterious benefactor. (This is called epistolary style.) They cover her entire college education, from her arrival at the campus to her graduation and what happens after. The letters in the book are only Judy’s, with no replies from her benefactor shown because her benefactor does not write to her until almost the end, only sending money and an occasional present (like flowers, when she was sick).

In spite of the matron’s instructions to keep her letters basic and to show proper respect and gratitude, Jerusha’s lively personality comes through and is often a bit irreverent, just the style that her benefactor prefers. In her first letter, she describes her very first train ride to the college and how big and bewildering the college campus is to her. She also confides the matron’s final instructions to her about how she should behave for the whole rest of her life, including the part about being “Very Respectful.” She says that she finds it difficult to be Very Respectful to someone who goes by the alias of “John Smith.” It bothers her that it’s so impersonal. She’s been thinking a lot about who “John Smith” really is and what he’s really like. She has never had a family and no one has ever taken any particular interest in her before, and now she feels like her benefactor is her family. She tells him that all she knows about him is that he is rich, that he is tall (from a brief glimpse she had of him as he was leaving the orphanage), and that he doesn’t like girls (from what the matron told her). Based on these qualities, she chooses the one that yields the best nickname, that he is tall and has long legs, and gives him the more personal nickname of “Daddy-Long-Legs.” All of her letters to him from this point forward are addressed with this nickname. At one point, she says that she hopes that the comments she makes about her previous life at the orphanage don’t offend him, but she knows that he has the advantage of being able to stop paying her tuition and allowance if he decides that she’s too impertinent. That knowledge doesn’t stop her from making occasional jokes or flippant comments about life at the orphanage.

Jerusha loves college and begins making new friends, particularly a girl who lives in the same dorm, Sallie McBride. Sallie is very friendly, and but her roommate, Julia Rutledge Pendleton, is more stuffy and standoffish. Julia comes from a very wealthy family, one of the oldest in New York. Julia doesn’t notice Jerusha right away. She is too wrapped up in her family’s prestige, and she seems to be bored by everything going on around her. By contrast, Jerusha is excited by everything because everything is a new experience to her. Sallie gets homesick, but Jerusha doesn’t because she doesn’t have a regular home to miss. For the first time, she gets new clothes, not hand-me-downs and not the standard gingham that the orphans wear. Jerusha also gets a room to herself, for the first time in her life. Jerusha realizes that she can be completely alone whenever she wants to and spend time getting to know herself without other people.

One of Jerusha’s first moves to get to know herself and establish her personal identity is to change her name to Judy. Jerusha was a foundling who came to the orphanage without a name and was named by the matron. Jerusha knows that the matron chooses children’s last names from the phone book, and she picked Abbott for her right off the first page. The first names that the matron gives are random, and she happened to notice the name “Jerusha” on a tombstone once. Jerusha has never liked her name, and she thinks that “Judy” sounds like a girl “without any cares,” which is the kind of girl she would like to be and wishes she was. She is also pleased and amazed when her teachers praise her creativity and originality because, at the orphanage, the 97 children who lived there were dressed and trained to behave as if they were 97 identical twins instead of 97 individuals. Creativity and nonconformity were not generally encouraged.

One of the most difficult and embarrassing parts of college for Jerusha/Judy is that the other girls there know many things that she does not because the orphanage never thought it was important to teach her those things. Most of them are cultural references, like who Michelangelo was or that Henry VIII was married multiple times. (That part actually surprises me. Jerusha did attend a public high school, and my high school covered these subjects. We also read some of the books that Jerusha says that she never read, and we are told that she did well in English class. It makes me wonder if, by “English,” they mean that the class focused only on writing the English language and did not study literature at all.) At the orphanage, Jerusha was never introduced to the childhood classics that the other girls know, like Mother Goose rhymes, fairy tales like Cinderella, or stories like Alice in Wonderland or Little Women. She has not read any of the popular novels or classics like those by Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, or Rudyard Kipling. Before she came to college, she didn’t even know who Sherlock Holmes was. Sometimes, when the girls make jokes about certain things in popular culture, Judy doesn’t understand, and she can tell that people notice when she misses the point of the discussion or doesn’t get the joke. Sometimes, she feels like she’s visiting a foreign country where people speak a language she doesn’t understand. (Some people may say that studying things like art, history, and literature are not important, but there are benefits to understanding history and a shared culture, and Jerusha feels the lack of that in her life.) She is afraid to tell the others that she grew up in an orphanage because she doesn’t want to seem too strange to them. Instead, she just says that her parents are dead and that a kind gentleman is helping her with her education. Later, when Julia begins to take an interest in her and to press her for details about her family, Judy makes up a name for her mother’s maiden name because she doesn’t want to have to explain her past to Julia while Julia brags about her own pedigree. One of the reasons that Judy shows less gratitude toward the people who raised her at the orphanage and its trustees is because she has been raised differently from other children. The orphanage fed, clothed, and educated her in a basic way, but their care for her was minimal. She wasn’t really loved there. Outside of the orphanage, she feels like something of an oddity and just wants to be like the other girls.

At one point, a local bishop visits the college and gives a speech, saying that the poor will always be with us and the reason that there will always be poor people is to encourage people to be charitable. Although Judy can’t say anything, she gets angry at the speech because it implies that poor girls like her are basically like “useful domestic animals,” that they exist for no other reason than to be of use to other people to improve their character by enabling them to be charitable to someone lesser than themselves. Judy wants to be thought of as her own person, someone who is deserving of the good things in life because she is a person, not just someone who serves a purpose for someone else to show off their largesse. The fact that she feels comfortable enough to let even her benefactor know how she feels about these things shows how deeply Judy feels these issues and how much she needs someone to understand her feelings.

At various points in the book, Judy becomes philosophical and discusses serious issues and the way that she sees life, offering her views and remarks on topics like socialism, the vanity and burden of fashion (yet the need women have to consider it and how it can make a difference in a woman’s life and attitude), the concept of wealth and the narrower topic of personal finances and debts, family lineage and what it can mean for individuals, self-determination and personal freedom, education and culture, and toward the end, romance and marriage. When Judy meets her benefactor and gets to know him, she finds that they have similar attitudes about many of these topics, although there are times when he tries to tell her what to do and she rejects his orders, acting on her own initiative. One of the purposes of a college education is to expose students to new ideas and experiences, open new channels of thought, and give them the chance to establish their identities and views on particular subjects. For Judy, everything is a new experience, but she learns quickly and establishes definite views and her own strong personality.

Judy’s letters are full of humor and are often accompanied by little sketches of her activities. She discusses her classes and her joy at being accepted on the girls’ basketball team. (There were women’s and girls’ basketball teams back in the early 1900s and 1910s, when this book was written. These pictures show what their uniforms looked like.) She catches up on all the books that she has missed reading before, and she loves reading them. The more she reads, the more she understands what the other girls are talking about when they mention their childhood favorites or make jokes about the things they’ve read. When Judy reports what she’s studying in her classes, she often does so in a creative way, like when she describes Hannibal’s battle against the army of Ancient Rome as though she were a war correspondent. She does very well in English and gym classes, but fails her Latin and mathematics courses and needs tutoring.

Over Christmas, Judy stays at the school with a fellow student named Leonora. They treat themselves to a lobster dinner at a restaurant, Judy buys herself a few presents with the Christmas money sent by her benefactor, and they have a molasses candy pull (people used to make that kind of taffy candy at parties with other people) with some other students.

Gradually, Judy begins being more friendly with Julia, even though she still thinks that Julia is a snob, and she becomes friendly with Julia’s uncle, Jervis Pendleton, who comes to visit the college. Jervis is Julia’s father’s youngest brother, a handsome, wealthy, and good-natured man. He is very kind to Judy when they meet, and he later sends Julia, Sallie, and Judy some candy. (His age is never given, but Judy comments in one of her letters that she imagines that he is much like her benefactor would have been 20 years earlier, believing her benefactor to be an older man, although she has not been told his age.)

When it’s time for her first summer holidays, Judy actually tells her benefactor that she cannot face going back to the John Grier Home and would rather die than go back for the summer, even though the matron has written to say that she will take her if she has nowhere else to go. Judy loves being free from the orphanage and can’t stand the idea of going back and being pressed into service to take care of the younger children again. Instead, her benefactor arranges for her to spend the summer at a farm owned by Mr. and Mrs. Semple in Connecticut. The Semples tell her that the farm used to belong to Jervis Pendleton and that Mrs. Semple was his nurse when he was a child. He gave the farm to her out of fondness for her. If you haven’t guessed already, this is an important clue to the identity of Judy’s mysterious benefactor.

Recounting all of Judy’s adventures during the rest of her college education would take too long, but she does become roommates with both Julia and Sallie during her sophomore year. This gives Judy more opportunities to see Julia’s Uncle Jervis. She visits Sallie’s family at Christmas, getting a taste of happy family life, and she meets her brother, Jimmie. Jimmie seems fond of Judy, but Judy’s mysterious benefactor doesn’t allow her to spend the summer with the McBride family, where she would be going to dances with him and his college friend. Instead, he insists that she go to the farm in Connecticut again, so she is there when Jervis Pendleton drops in for a visit. (Another important clue.) Judy does disobey her benefactor’s orders and gets a job and goes to see Jimmie the following summer instead of going on a trip to Europe that he had originally arranged for her.

Judy also furthers her writing ambitions, winning a writing contest and sending stories and poems that she writes to magazines, eventually selling some and writing a novel that will be published in volumes. She is a published author by the time she graduates from college.

At the end of the book, Judy’s benefactor reveals his true identity, which Judy had not guessed, only after Judy reveals her feelings regarding him in her letters. Initially, she turns out his offer of marriage, but as she reveals in her letters, the reason is that he knows nothing (or, she thinks that he knows nothing) about her past, and she doubts that a wealthy man like him would marry a poor orphan if he knew. The book ends with Judy’s letter to her benefactor/fiance after she goes to meet him at his home and he tells her the truth. When she realizes that he knows about her past and still loves her and has loved her all along through her letters and his periodic visits, she agrees to marry him.

This book is currently available to borrow for free online through Internet Archive. The book has been adapted for stage and screen many times over and in different countries around the world. There is also a sequel called Dear Enemy, which focuses on Sallie McBride and what she does after graduating from college.