Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
After the deaths of their parents, orphans Nancy and Plum are sent by their Uncle John to Mrs. Monday's Boarding Home for Children. The cruel and heartless Mrs. Monday dresses all the children in ragged clothes, feeds them meager rations, and keeps their sleeping quarters cold and drafty. Letters sent to the girls from their uncle are destroyed and pretty dresses he sends are given to Mrs. Monday's spoiled niece Marybelle. Alone at Christmas, Nancy and Plum discover empty boxes addressed to them that once held beautiful dollsdolls that are now in Marybelle's bedroom. As their lives become more difficult and with Mrs. Monday singling them out for punishment, the girls decide to escape the hardships of the boarding home. Late one night, with they help of Old Tom, the caretaker, they slip through the iron gate and embark on an adventure that eventually leads them to a new family. If the author's name looks familiar it is because MacDonald is also the author of the beloved "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" series. Originally published in 1952, the book has a gentle, old-fashioned feel to it. At times the language is overdone and it slows the flow of the story but much of that can be credited to the simpler times in which the novel was first written. Children who are Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle fans and those who still enjoy the works of Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright, and Jeanne Birdsall (she wrote the introduction) will like this satisfying story that lacks the impact of a true melodrama. They will sympathize with the girls and be indignant at the malevolence of Mrs. Monday. The illustrations by Grand Pre who also illustrated the American "Harry Potter" series add just the right atmosphere. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—Living at Mrs. Monday's Boarding School is truly torture, but orphaned Nancy and Plum make the best of their situation. While they tackle their seemingly never-ending list of chores, from cleaning windows to mending socks, their imaginations set them free. The sisters daydream about the perfect Christmas, having a family, and how their lives could be different, perhaps even wonderful. Eventually, they become fed up with Mrs. Monday and they make plans to run away. Once they escape, Nancy and Plum contact their uncle, spend the night in a haystack, and eventually find the family of their dreams. Originally published in 1952, this edition preserves the charm of MacDonald's writing and is a great choice for fans of her "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" series (HarperCollins). GrandPré's detailed illustrations enhance the story and help to capture the time of horse-drawn carts, working farms, and pinafores. The rich description draws readers in, inviting them back to a simpler time. Nancy and Plum are lovable characters whom readers will be drawn to and their colorful adventures keep things moving along. However, the book is rather slowly paced until the girls decide to run away. With a simple plot and well-developed characters, this title is a good choice for a wide range of readers, especially those who enjoy MacDonald's imaginative stories.—Mary-Brook J. Townsend, The McGillis School, Salt Lake City, UT
Read an Excerpt
Mrs. Monday's Boarding Home
It was Christmas Eve. Big snowflakes fluttered slowly through the air like white feathers and made all of Heavenly Valley smooth and white and quiet and beautiful. Tall fir trees stood up to their knees in the snow and their outstretched hands were heaped with it. Trees that were bare of leaves wore soft white fur on their scrawny, reaching arms and all the stumps and low bushes had been turned into fat white cupcakes. Mrs. Monday's big, brick Boarding Home for Children wore drifts on its window sills, thick frosting on its steep slate roofs, big white tam o'shanters on its cold chimneys and by the light of the lanterns on either side of the big iron gates you could see that each of the gateposts wore a round snow hat. Even the sharp spikes of the high iron fencehad been blunted by the snow. However, in spite of its snowy decorations, in spite of the beauty of its setting, and even in spite of its being Christmas Eve, Mrs. Monday's was a forbidding-looking establishment. The fences were high and strong, the house was like a brick fortress and the windows, with the exception of one small one high up and almost hidden by the bare branches of a large maple tree, were like dark staring eyes. No holly wreath graced the heavy front door, no Christmas-tree lights twinkled through the windows and beckoned in the passer-by, no fragrant boughs nor pine cones were heaped on the mantel of the large cold fireplace, for Mrs. Monday, her niece Marybelle Whistle and all but two of her eighteen boarders had gone to the city to spend Christmas. Nancy and Plum Remson (Plum's real name was Pamela but she had named herself Plum when she was too little to say Pamela), the two boarders who remained, were left behind because they had no mother and father. No other place to go on Christmas Eve.
You see, six years before, when Nancy and Plum were four and two years old, their mother and father had been killed in a train wreck and the children turned over to their only living relative, one Uncle John, an old bachelor who lived in a club in the city, didn't know anything about children, didn't want to know anything about children and did not like children. When the telegram from the Remsons' lawyer came notifying Uncle John of the tragic accident and the fact that he had just inherited two little girls, he was frantic.
"Dreadful!" he said, fanning himself with his newspaper. "Gallivanting around the country getting killed. Dreadful and careless! Two little children! Heavens! What will I do with them? I'll have to move from this nice leather chair in this nice comfortable club and will probably wind up washing dishes and making doll clothes. Dreadful! Heavens!" Beads of sweat sprang out on his forehead like dew and he fanned himself some more. It was while he was folding his newspaper to make a bigger and better fan that he noticed the advertisement. It read:
CHILDREN BOARDEDBeautiful country home with spacious grounds, murmuring brooks, own cows, chickens, pigs, and horses. Large orchard. Delicious home-cooked food. A mother's tender loving care. Year round boarders welcome. Rates upon request. Address Mrs. Marybelle Monday, Box 23, Heavenly Valley.
With trembling hands, Uncle John tore out the advertisement and wrote a letter to Mrs. Monday. He received an immediate answer and three days later he was on his way to inspect this delightful boarding home so chock-full of good food and tender loving care for little children.
It was springtime in Heavenly Valley and the fields were golden with dandelions, the slopes were foaming with cherry blossoms, the sky was lazily rolling big white clouds around and meadow larks trilled in the thickets. Uncle John was entranced. "Had forgotten the country was so beautiful!" he said to his chauffeur. "Certainly the place for children. Beautiful, beautiful!"
When they drew up to the imposing entrance of Mrs. Monday's Boarding Home for Children, Uncle John was most impressed. "Nice, solid, respectable place," he said, noting the very large, sturdily built brick house surrounded by the high spiked iron fence."Well built," he said to his chauffeur, who had jumped out to open the heavy iron gates for him.
"It certainly is," the chauffeur said, wondering to himself why a boarding home for little children should have such a wicked-looking fence. Surely not just to keep the rolling lawns from oozing out into the road!