Thursday, 3 July 2014

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field

This was charming, but slight. It's a children's book about a wooden doll and her adventures over a hundred years, including some time on a whaling ship, being worshipped as an idol in the South Seas, time in India among missionaries (I did sort of wonder about the geography that got her from one to the other. Did people who were whalers in the Maine really go all the way to the Pacific to get whales?), time with a Quaker family, with a spoiled little girl, with an old lady or two, on a steamboat on the Mississippi.

It's very cute, and very surface. She just glides along, and because none of the characters other than Hitty herself are in the picture for very long, it's little snapshots of Americana, but without much depth to them. I think kids could probably handle more depth.

I would, for instance, have been more interested to read about a doll and her experiences with one family over a longer period of time, and see what the author had to say about every day life. At times, it felt like she was stretching to find a new way to have the doll accidentally fall from one pair of hands to another. Sticking with something and seeing what developed might have been more interesting than having someone drop her in a crowd again. There might have been something there about family life, or how people relate to their dolls, and I think that could totally have bee done in an accessible way for children.

So as it is, this is a charming older book. But it doesn't really have any keen insights into the American experience or family life in the 19th century.

Also, for all the author dedicates the book to the State of Maine, there's not that much that takes place in Maine. I was excited by that dedication - my family used to go camping in Maine every year, and I wanted a book that took place there. But they leave fairly quickly, and while they're there, there really aren't any passages that capture why Maine is distinctive from other places. In fact, many of the places blur together.

I feel like I'm being harsh on a children's book, but I think children can ask for more than this. A stronger sense of place or character or plot, any one of those three, would have elevated this. As it is, it's charming. But not anything more.

No comments:

Post a Comment