Louisa May Alcott's Little Men - Book Review
“It takes so little to make a child happy that it is a pity, in a world so full of sunshine and pleasant things, that there should be any wistful faces, empty hands, or lonely little hearts.”
-LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, Little Men
With spring well underway and turbulent times distracting us from daily pleasure, I find myself turning again to the 'little men' of Plumfield, who fill the heart at once with regained strength and courage to face hardship and hurdle. Normally I would save it for an autumn read—it fits so well with Thanksgiving—but I couldn't resist coming back to the Bhaers this month, and it highly deserves a review of its own here.
Ah, Little Men...the greatly underrated, overlooked sequel to our beloved Little Women. You may ask yourself now why it's so overlooked, whereupon you might realize that for every beautiful, breathtaking new edition of Little Women that hits the shelves (and let's face it, you'll never be able to buy too many of them), you never really see a lot of new, pretty ones for its successor (barring the gorgeous Virago Modern Classics edition pictured above)—and what's more, the same is certainly true as far as film adaptations go. Little Men just isn't popular.
But as for me? Ha! Let me be the first, if first I am, to say that I love Little Men, perhaps almost as much as Little Women.
There's something inexplicably sweet and wholesome and heartwarming about Alcott books in general, at least in my experience. #LittleMen is no exception. It's the sort of book I turn to when the world looks exasperatingly bleak, just to remind me that as long as Mother Bhaer and Father Bhaer are watching over Plumfield, life can be full of beauty, compassion, and life-giving treasure.
In the first chapter, we are introduced to Nat Blake—or rather, Nat Blake is introduced to Plumfield, a boarding school for boys, some of which are orphaned, homeless, or physically/mentally challenged. The charitable, kindly Bhaers are beacons of wisdom and goodness, and their philosophical experiments for running the school are both unfailingly unorthodox and incredibly clever. Pillow fights are happily allowed, the young men tend gardens to encourage gentlemanly compassion, moral and character-building experiences are deemed every bit as important to education as school lessons, and there's a defined sense of shared respect between boy and Bhaer alike.
While Nat and his entry into Plumfield life take center stage for the earlier sections of the book, it's the arrival of his street-urchin friend, Dan, that rattles the rest of the story. Ah, Dan...if I had to pick a favorite character, it's this one. Unkempt, unmannerly, and full of mischief, Dan sets Plumfield afire (literally!) with no end of pranks and bad turns. He's given chance after chance by the tenacious Bhaers, particularly Jo, who is determined to find and nurture the good in him.
But alas! The mischief proves too much, and Dan's last chance is up. He's sent away and is missing from the book for a couple of chapters, leaving you wistful and curious. His return to Plumfield is my favorite scene of all; when Jo finds him outside at night, wounded and forlorn, it's his weary, half-asleep little exclamation: "Mother Bhaer, I've come home," that sends through to the heart every time.
Nan is also a charming character, very much like Jo when she was a girl, only more rambunctious. She inadvertently gets lost one night with five-year-old Rob, Jo's eldest son, while they run away to gather huckleberries. I enjoyed the chapter so much, I did a little watercolor sketch of the scene just to amuse myself.
The way Louisa May Alcott describes the thoughts and actions of children is so true to life and full of nostalgic innocence. Little Robin spilling his bucket of huckleberries as he walked along was too precious a detail not to recreate. I sketched out the idea with graphite pencils on scrap paper before drawing it on watercolor paper with Micron pens, size 01 and 03, before going in with watercolor.
One of my favorite things about Little Men is the way "Mother Bhaer's" true character shines out in #JoMarch fashion, surprising the Plumfield boys on many occasions with her humor and spirit, flying kites in the field and climbing up the willow tree. Just when you begin to think she's getting older and the household duties are wearying out the lively girl, Laurie comes to visit, and she greets him with a "How goes it, Teddy?" as though she were a young girl again. Ah, Jo! The heroine of my girlhood in Little Women—and the heroine of my womanhood in Little Men. I admire her immensely.
[Laurie speaking] "I'm the first boy Mrs. Jo ever had to take care of, and I was such a bad one that she isn't done with me yet, though she has been working at me for years and years."
"How old she must be!" said Nat, innocently.
"She began early, you see. Poor thing! She was only fifteen when she took me in, and I led her such a life, it's a wonder she isn't wrinkled and gray, and quite worn out," and Mr. Laurie looked at up at her laughing.
"Don't, Teddy; I won't have you abuse yourself so;" and Mrs. Jo stroked the curly black head at her knee as affectionately as ever, for, in spite of everything Teddy was her boy still."
At its heart, Little Men is the story of how the boys of Plumfield learned and loved and grew—grew into wise, kind, compassionate, hardworking young men by the lessons Father and Mother Bhaer taught them. They learn to deny themselves and live for greater purposes than temptation offers; they learn to love truth and service better than greed and deceit; they learn to work together with their hands and nurture the growing minds with fellowship, loyalty, devotion, and respect for their fellow men and women. They learn that sympathy and love are beautiful feelings to express, never to be suppressed by shame for the tender heart that presses them.
We need more books like that today.
We need books like Little Men for the boys of this isolated generation. We need to show the world that fostering gentlemanly compassion and kindness, as the Bhaers did, is as necessary to the young man as nurturing self-respect and dignity to the young woman. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants isn't going to cut it. We need to let boys read stories that matter—stories that will cause their hearts and minds to grow inward and outward, to encourage wisdom and gentleness, manliness and goodness, that will bring them out of boyhood and into manhood with character and values that will last a lifetime.
We need to let boys read Little Men again.
That's all for today! I hope you enjoyed this review of #LouisaMayAlcott's Little Men. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below if the mood takes you. ;)
As this is a special week on the blog, I'm back tomorrow with more exciting goodies.