A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett

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In A Little Princess (originally published 1905), Francis Hodgson Burnett creates a turn-of-the-century London-based Cinderella story. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, is a truly remarkable heroine. Although raised with extravagant wealth and spoiled with whatever servants, toys, clothes, and so forth she could desire, she remained kind, pleasant, sensitive, and polite.

But reading of a perfectly spoiled child, no matter how remarkable she is, does not make for a fascinating story; one needs conflict to drive the action. In Sara’s case, her adversary is the head mistress of her London boarding school, Miss Minchin, as well as a few other girls in the school who are jealous of her status. When Sara’s fortunes are unexpectedly reversed on her eleventh birthday, her life is placed squarely in the hands of the cross Miss Minchin, who now feels she has a right to put young Sara to work in order to get the unpaid bills covered.

I have compared Sara’s plight to Cinderella, and A Little Princess is a formulaic story. It did feel incredibly familiar, so maybe I did read it or watch a movie version of it at some point. But even if this was my first exposure to the story, it is pretty clear what will happen. This does not necessarily detract from the story. A Little Princess is a story about positive attitude, believing in oneself, and living with positivity and politeness, as if one were a “princess,” even in dire circumstances.

A Little Princess is the kind of book I would have loved as a young child. Sara has an adored doll she talks with (as had I as a young girl). Sara dreams she is a princess, something I likewise enjoyed pretending. She loves to read and to learn, and lives in the stories she imagines as I always have loved doing. I was a romantic, naive child, and in many ways Sara was the same. When her fortunes changed, she depended on her pleasant imagination to get her through. Sara was the perfect girl, the girl I wished I could be.

All that said, as an adult, I found Sara annoyingly too good. I am afraid I am like Miss Minchin: someone so “perfect” would have driven me nuts. I don’t want to be mean as Miss Minchin is, but I’m afraid that’s more in my character. To go along with my pessimistic view of human nature, I’ll add that Sara’s attitude just didn’t strike me as realistic. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the “positive thoughts gets you better” philosophy, so the convenient healing of ill old gentlemen, while it added to the charm for children, simply made me roll my eyes. The book was certainly not a favorite for me this time.

However, even with those inherent feelings of  “Oh gag me. No one is like this!”, I still can’t wait to read it to my little girl, when she gets a little older. There are important concepts in the story. I want my children to learn, like Sara did, that no matter what their circumstances, they can rise above them by remembering who they are, including being both my child and a precious spirit child of God. I believe in that in some respects, then, my son is a “prince” and my daughter a “princess”, and I hope I can instill that deep in their hearts, much as Sara’s father did for her.

Reviewed on September 6, 2012

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I did read this as a little kid, and even though as an adult I recognize that Sara is a little too good, I still love it completely. Can I recommend — with the knowledge that sequels to classics are very very very close to never a good idea — Hilary McKay’s book Wishing for Tomorrow? It’s a sequel to A Little Princess (again, I typically would think this was an awful idea!), and it’s completely charming.

  • I’ve seen the film but the book was one of those I always planned to read, as a child, and never did. I think I agree with your thoughts of your children being prince and princess – the way we tend to view the terms isn’t so much to do with royalty as who we are and the nature we view princesses as having. Interesting the difference you found in how you saw Sara as an adult, but then I suppose how she is would work as a good lesson for children.

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