When I was in elementary school, I remember wanting to read The Secret Garden for a book report. I had ordered it from one of those Weekly Reader order forms. I remember the teacher telling me that I was too young, and of course, my indignant side flared up and I was like, “I’ll show this bitch.”

She was right. I could barely get into the book at all, so I threw it aside and dove into something more my speed: The Babysitters Club where Dawn (the health-food-loving Californian transplant) discovered her new house was haunted!

When I picked up the book a few years later, I love, love, loved it. Still, I had never read A Little Princess, even though I had heard how great it was. When it was discussed on Jezebel, one of my favorite websites, in their fantastic Fine Lines section, I decided to give it a shot.


It was charming and sweet and I actually sighed with delight at several places, all thanks to how wonderfully sympathetic and admirably Sara Crewe is drawn. Even though she’s definitely not perfect–as we find out in several asides that she has quite a temper and even has fantastized about killing the evil Miss Minchin–she radiates a goodness that makes the reader love her instead of wanting to see any sappy smile slapped off her face. (Usually what I think when it comes to “the good guys.”)

Plotwise, Burnett does a pretty smart trick of achieving wish fulfillment but earning it. Although Sara’s goodness is rewarded and she ends the book able to do whatever she wants, Burnett has structured the narrative to make this seem just and true instead of magically implausible.

Sara’s strength, endurance and intelligence would impress anyone, but the kind little actions she takes towards her friends (especially Melchisedec the rat…how do you even pronounce that name?) really warmed this cold, cold heart. Still, for a modern American reader, the issue of class sticks a little.

Should we really be happy that poor, uneducated and overworked Becky is elevated to lady’s maid? Sure, she gets fed and treated well, and she herself would probably never question her role in serving Sara, her better, but this American wanted to see Becky overthrow her class limitations and start a little revolution.

But that is probably why I am no princess, little or otherwise.