Reviewed by H. W. Boynton
The Atlantic Monthly
[Ed. note: This review which covers two books, Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl , was originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, April 1903.]
There is, in short, no separate standard of taste by which to determine the value of books written for children. To be of permanent use, they must possess literary quality; that is, they must be whole-souled, broad, mature in temper, however simple they may need to be in theme or manner. This truth is not always observed by the fond adult buyer. The given book seems, he admits, rather silly, but he supposes that to be a part of its character as a "juvenile." A theory seems to be building up that the attribute of ripe humor which is wisdom is rather wasted upon a book for children; that a boy knows a parson and recognizes a clown, but is only puzzled by the betwixts and betweens of the class to which most of humanity belongs. It is often asserted that a child's sense of humor is mainly confined to a sense of the ridiculous. That is true of his sense of a joke; but children have never been proved insusceptible to the warmth of true humor, though they may have been quite unconscious of susceptibility. In the meantime, they are ready enough to put up with its absence; and they find at hand a type of fiction built upon an artificial code of sentiment and morals. Children's magazines and libraries are full of stories written according to this code, the beginning and the end of which is the prescription of certain things to do and not to do: never to cheat in examination, always to be grateful to your parents, never to pretend to have money when you haven't, and always to knock under to authority. By way of making up for all these deprivations, you are (if you are a genuine school hero or heroine) allowed to make precocious love to the prettiest girl or the handsomest boy in school. It cannot be denied that there is something of this in Miss Alcott, though her successors and imitators have, according to the habit of imitators, exaggerated the defects of her method and her work. Her books are, in the main, not only interesting to girls, but wholesome, and deserve to be handsomely reprinted, as two of them have just been, for the benefit of the rising generation of Beths and Megs and Pollies.
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