Klass's (Shooting Star: A Novel About Annie Oakley) storytelling runs thin in this earnest historical novel set during Louisa May Alcott's girlhood. Susan, a shy, stammering 11-year-old from a hardworking farm family, chronicles the Alcotts' brief stay at Fruitlands, the Transcendentalist community founded in part by Louisa's idealistic father, the educator Bronson Alcott, and visited by such luminaries as Thoreau. Susan and Louisa instantly become best friends, and Mr. Alcott, the Fruitlands schoolteacher, includes Susan in his classes. Louisa comes across as melodramatic and headstrong, an overdone version of Little Women's beloved Jo (e.g., Louisa instructs Susan to cure her stutter by pretending to be King Alfonso of Spain, stamping her foot and declaiming, "Begone, vile stammer"). The various other Alcotts either seem like shadows of Louisa May Alcott's fictional characters or fit stereotypes about intellectuals. The best moments come from Susan's musings about the adults, including her surprise at the skimpy menus (no animal products or animal by-products are allowed) and her bemusement at the great thinkers' heated discussions in the fields while they neglect their crops. While Klass sets the stage for Fruitlands' eventual demise, the story dwindles rather than climaxes. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Eleven-year-old Susan has not had many opportunities to make friends or meet other people. Her stuttering problem makes her shy, so Susan spends most of her time alone or with her Aunt Nell while her father is busy with their farm. Everything changes when some eccentric strangers move in next door. Susan's curiosity gets the best of her, especially when she sees that there are children in the family, and she befriends the newcomers. Soon Susan is attending school with the Alcotts, becoming best friends with future-author Louisa May, and learning their social philosophies. In the process, she learns a bit about life, a bit about love, and techniques for conquering her stuttering. In this novel, Sheila Solomon Klass adapts Alcott's own family novel style to provide a historic overview of the Alcott family's social experiment. This is a good selection for a child who has already developed an interest in the fictional Little Women, one who has an interest in the real Alcott little women or one who enjoys historical fiction. 2000, Holiday House, 15.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Heidi Green
This engaging and unique addition to historical fiction is set in 1843 when young Louisa May Alcott and her family establish an experimental community on the farm next to Susan Wilson's. Susan, a shy, lonely eleven-year-old, is thrilled when Louisa May and her sisters befriend her and include Susan in their daily life and lessons taught by Louisa's father. Brother Bronson Alcott favors the Socratic method of dialogue to gain knowledge. Pupils are treated not only to classic literature and conversations but also to regular visits from Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Alcott family's ideas about diet, dress, and family life are radical compared with the narrow-minded intolerance of Susan's father, and although the experimental community called Fruitlands ultimately fails, Susan gains much. She forges a better relationship with her father, rids herself of a lifelong stutter, and begins to consider seriously the philosophical issues raised by the Fruitlands community. Klass addresses a timeless issue—the possibility of utopian societies—from the interesting viewpoint of Susan, the outside observer. The many details of the politics and worldview these utopian dreamers espoused are included in the text in a natural way, as are the deeper philosophical issues they consider. Fans of Louisa May Alcott will enjoy this glimpse into the politics of her family, and this book would make a worthwhile addition to thematic units on utopian societies and transcendentalism as well as the 1840s. Many of the issues raised resonate today and are sure to spark lively discussions, either in the classroom or in smaller literature circles. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most,marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Holiday House, 144p, . Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Dana Vance SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Eleven-year-old Susan Wilson, a lonely farm child who stutters, observes the Alcott family and the rest of the Consociates as they move into Fruitlands to begin their experiment in communal living. She and her Aunt Nell deliver food to the new neighbors and Louisa gains a friend who longs to learn and be with other children. Susan's father, a stern widower, has no time for his shy, quiet daughter, and no patience for her stammering. When Aunt Nell pleads the girl's case, he reluctantly allows her to be taught by Bronson Alcott and the strict Charles Lane. Klass skillfully weaves real people and real events into this story of the lively friendship between the two girls. Louisa, her sisters, and Will Lane swing from trees, learn mythology, and explore the world with exuberance. At the same time, the folly of the adults, their lack of farming skills, the tension between doing hard work and "thinking," and attitudes about "women's work" come through clearly. Dramatic events like saving the harvest from a storm or Abigail (Marmee) Alcott's exhaustion from continuous work are included in this engaging story about one of America's utopian experiments.-Kathryn Kosiorek, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brooklyn, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
An engaging, warm-hearted historical novel about farm life, friendship, imagination, and what Transcendentalism looked like to a smart ten-year-old. Susan Wilson, whose mother died in labor, has grown up isolated, frail, and shy, with her harsh, distant farmer father and her stiff, but loving aunt. When Louisa May Alcott's family, along with a few other"Consociates," move, in 1843, onto a nearby farm, now rechristened Fruitlands, attempting to create a utopian community, Susan's world expands. Quickly becoming the best friend of Louisa—also ten—she begins attending classes taught by Louisa's father, Bronson, and is soon a part of their community, despite her father's misgivings. Engaged by learning, playing, and having adventures with Louisa and the other children, Susan blossoms, growing strong and curious, overcoming a debilitating stammer. Grudgingly coming to like his odd, idealistic neighbors, Susan's father tries to help them with their farming, but their principled, impractical decisions, such as rejecting the use of plow animals, leave Susan and her father shaking their heads. The farm fails in the first year, and the Alcotts move on, but Susan has grown, and her father thaws, coming to appreciate her intelligence and character. With a wonderful portrait of the bold, smart, dramatic Louisa, including a look at her"first book," the novel will charm readers, whether or not familiar with Little Women; it's also a fine, painless introduction to an influential and characteristically American religious movement. (Fiction. 8-12)