Cons: One disturbing game, treatment of young children
The Bottom Line: Read this book before allowing children to do so. It does have a great deal of merit, so allow them to enjoy the beautiful language and tender lessons.
Love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive. (Louisa May Alcott).
Have you ever stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, allowing a computer-synthesized speech program to read you a classic in a dreadfully-simulated British accent? If not, I daresay that you are cringing at the thoughtparticularly if you are fond of literature and feel that treating any book so miserably is a case of abuse. I, however, got on reasonably well, and managed to complete Alcotts masterpiece Little Men in only two days. Something in Alcotts charming works compels me to read them until exhaustion envelops me entirely. This exquisite sequel to Little Women was no exception.
In order that the reader should become familiar with the various inhabitants of the prestigious school discussed throughout Alcotts novel, let us imagine the children at their lessons. Nat, who has recently been given shelter at Plumfield School, eagerly performs his lessons, for he dearly wishes to please his professor Mr. Bhaer. Despite his best efforts, however, he finds his mind straying to the realm of music and wishing that he could be playing the violin rather than agonizing over the fundamentals of learning to read.
Demi Brooke sits thoughtfully in a corner, reading The Arabian Knights. A thoughtful and extraordinarily ethical child, Demi is given to philosophy and enjoys nothing more than hearing Mr. Bhaers allegorical sketches or Aesops fables. He is a boy after the Bhaers hearts, for he attempts to keep his heart in order, as one might tidy a disorganized room. However, he finds mathematical lessons and physical labor utter unfruitful to the stimulation of his mental faculties.
One may easily imagine Tommy among some of the other young boys, plotting mischief that shall likely provide a healthy dose of laughter to his companions and a heartier dose of medication to his body. Tommy Bangs is correctly named, for he blunders his obstreperous way through life, instigating amusing incidents but generally injuring himself in the process. We may picture him, at present, whispering to his friend Dan about plans to construct enormous kites after school.
Dan listens eagerly to Tommys discourse, though he is now keenly aware of the importance of causing no true harm. Recently taken from a life of drinking and fighting, Dan must learn to control his flaming temper. Between conversations with Tommy, he sits examining a large entomology book. With much difficulty does this spirited colt await the hour when lessons will be suspended and he may prowl the nearby forest for more butterflies to add to his collection.
Surely, a boys school would not be complete without the good-natured girls who assist in taming the lads rambunctious natures. Daisys docile character easily subdues most of the boys. Why, if they do not behave chivalrously, they shall not be invited to partake in the confections that Daisy prepares using a tiny, functioning stove.
Nan is rather in scorn of Daisys delicate, domestic ways. Just now, she sits in Plumfields aforementioned schoolroom, contemplating her herb garden. When grown, she shall pursue a career in medicine and cut peoples legs off. Of a truth, she is more boisterous than the vast majority of young men.
Over the lessons presides Mr. Bhaer, a learned German professor and husband to Jo. His wisdom is unmatched by many, and his faith renders him admirable even to greedy Jack.
Little Men opens as Nat arrives at Plumfield School, an institution that Jo Bhaer and her German husband established to teach young boys morals. Thirteen young men and two little ladies are taught to appreciate others and to have faith in God through church attendance, physical tasks, and the all-important Conscience Book. In the latter, Mrs. Bhaer sets forth an account of each childs behavior, to be discussed each Sunday afternoon.
Plumfield is a pleasant institution, at which hearty amusement is encouraged along with academia. The boys are permitted one pillow-fight per week, and amuse themselves by enacting plays or masquerading as fanciful creaturescomplete with disintegrating paper wings. The ultimate opening of a science museum fulfils their academic obligation as well as the need for supreme entertainment.
All is not perfect at Plumfield, however. When Tommys hard-earned money is found missing, the children blame Nat for his former association with Tommy. Nat has been known to tell tales in the past, so few believe his fervent claims to innocence. The plot becomes infinitely more complex, and several other youngsters become involved. I shall leave the culprits identity to the reader.
Each child is changed as the book progresses. Dan, who once set the house ablaze for love of forbidden tobacco products, soon becomes gentle in lifestyle if not in grammar. Demi must stretch the limits of his philosophical nature in order to comprehend a sudden tragedy whose nature I shall not here reveal. Will Nan pursue medicine, or allow Tommy to pursue her? These and other ideas culminate in Little Men and are resolved in Jos Boys.
As aforestated, Little Men is a moral book with an elegant rhythm. Upon spotting a painting of Christ blessing little children, Nat inquires into the matter and receives a touching answer from young Demi. The books faith-based morals enhance the books light yet joyful nature and may gently teach even modern children the value of kindness to others.
However, certain of the scenes within this book leave something to be desired. While at play one day, Demi, Daisy, and two younger boys decide to hold a sacrifice to an unseen, frightening creature simply known as Kitty Mouse. The sackerryfice, as Demi puts it, will involve the burning of several prized toys. Although Mrs. Bhaer eventually hears of the incident and future sacrifices to Kitty Mouse are quenched, the game rather resembles a séance. It may be frightening to young children; moreover, depending upon your faith, you may wish to read Chapter VIII before allowing children to do so. I personally found this inclusion somewhat unnecessary.
Moreover, Mrs. Bhaer seems somewhat neglectful of her own two children, Rob and Teddy. While attempting to entertain themselves, Daisy and Nan succeed in shutting the baby of the family in a closet, nearly drowning him in a bathtub, and pretending to hang him when pretending that he is a robber. The book makes no mention of Mr. or Mrs. Bhaer scolding the girls or protecting Teddy from their care. This may be disturbing to some parents.
Little Women concluded in a rather inharmonious manner; despite her hatred of sentimental nonsense, Jo March married Mr. Bhaer for his intellect. Little Men finds the no-frills tomboy markedly softened; she is full of kindness, has an excellent sense of humor, and does not mind performing domestic chores when necessity dictates.
That said, Little Women displays a somewhat more complex plot. While I recommend Little Women for children between ten and twelve, I feel that Alcotts sequel is more appropriate for children ages eight to ten. Considering this age suggestion, this would be an excellent read-aloud book for family enjoyment. Despite its title, I feel that the quaint language within Little Men renders it more suited for girls than for boys.
With the exception of two questionable episodes throughout Alcotts novel, I recommend it to children who enjoyed Little Women and to those who enjoy an elegant yet amusing story. Fear not the perils of a soggy, clamorous ending; this book has a gentle conclusion.
Can perfection be enhanced? Indeed, I believe that Little Men is more intriguing than was its prequel.