I grew up with the 1995 version of A Little Princess, and when I say “grew up,” I mean watched every single day (sorry, Mom). The movie was beautiful, the story magical, and I understood Sara Crewe’s attachment to imagination in her loneliness. I even owned a replica of the locket Captain Crewe gave Sara in the movie (my fangirling started young).
I’m not sure I realized A Little Princess was a book until a few years ago, though I had read The Secret Garden and loved it, so when I bought A Little Princess my anticipation was high.
When she is of school-age, Sara’s beloved father, Captain Crewe, takes her from their home in India to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Girls in London, where he leaves her with a promise to return and a doll named Emily that she can talk to whenever she finds herself lonely. Both equally torn by the departure, Sara rises to the challenge, excelling in her studies and befriending the outcast boarders. When news of a tragedy comes to Miss Minchin’s attention and Sara’s income ceases, she removes Sara as a student and places her in the attic, reducing her to the level of servant. Snatched abruptly from her life of luxury, Sara discovers there is one way to overcome humiliation and loneliness: imagination.
This is the book every little girl should read. This would have been my comfort book when I was a child. The protagonist triumphs over separation, loneliness, grief, scorn, degradation, starvation, and fear with bravery, grace, wisdom, and selflessness. With use of her wildly passionate imagination, she “supposes” she is a princess on the inside, and therefore must act and react as a princess would, but it is simply her own kind heart that prevails and shines through her words and actions.
The story is actually quite profound. No eleven-year-old should experience such hardships; Burnett does not hide the cruelty of the world, but she shows through Sara Crewe that even in the darkest days you can rise above and be a light to those around you.