little-womenLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

Interest Level Grade 9
Grade Level Equivalent 7.9
Genre Classics, Historical Fiction

When I think of classic girls’ tween literature, two titles come immediately to mind: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. ‘Little women,’ is the Dickensian reference to what is considered the ‘tween’ years today. This novel is a semi-autobiography of a family consisting of 4 sisters, a mother, and a cook. The father is away involved in the Civil War. Oh, and of course, the wealthy neighbor, Laurie, who has always been in love with the main character, Jo. The March family lives in a large house in a nicer area of Concord, MA. The family has fallen on hard times and are forced to economize. Jo is a strong, almost masculine character who spends hours in the attic, writing adventure articles and trying to get published. The daughters of gentlemen do not work, so outside their charitable obligations, the girls have a lot of time to make up theatricals, play in the snow and on the frozen pond, and improve themselves. When Laurie declares his love for Jo, Jo runs away to New York City to become a writer. It is here that she is forced by a German gentleman, Mr. Bhaer, whom she is secretly in love with, that she must write what she knows. In reality, it was the publisher, Roberts Brothers, that requested a book for girls.

Louisa May Alcott is a fascinating person in her own right. She lived near Walden Pond and had access to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s library, took nature excursions with Henry Davis Thoreau, and visited with Nathanial Hawthorne and Margaret Fuller. Her family’s religion was transcendentalism, where a person strives for perfection. She was an abolitionist and a suffragette, becoming the first woman to register to vote in Concord, MA. Her father was an educator, and introduced the idea of recess to grade school. Louisa was a nurse in Washington DC during the Civil War. She published a book of letters sent home by the soldiers. She died just two days after her father, at the age of 55, probably from Lupus.

I read Little Women at about age 10 and re-read it every year or two. I am always shocked that Jo turns down Laurie and I always cry when you know who dies. National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” It was one of the “Top 100 Chapter Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal. Over the years, I have read much about her fascinating life, but used the Wiki to help me out with dates and other details.

Alcott, L. M. (1868). Little Women. New York, New York: Roberts Brothers.