This Should’ve Won An Oscar: Rewatching Matilda

We’d never dream of doing an entire Matilda Week without rewatching the movie. Dare I say, this week was one part celebration of one of our favorite books and movies, one part commemoration of Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, and one part excuse to watch Matilda again. Like us, the movie has aged very well and is a constant delight. Here were some of our thoughts as we watched it:

This Should’ve Won An Oscar

In general, I think the cinematography is A+. Every scene can be taken as a still shot and look like a piece of art. Danny uses a lot of overhead shots and creative angles when need be, and I appreciate that when Matilda’s younger, there are a lot of camera shots taken from her point of view

I Forgot About 90s Film Quality

Maybe my DVD isn’t ~digitally remastered but I’m shocked by how dull and fuzzy this is.

Truly, Truly Iconic Scene

A+++ Casting On Young Matilda

During our last blog meeting we went on a search for the younger versions of Matilda. Here is Caitlin Fein (one of the toddler Matildas) now:

And here is Mara Wilson now:

Good work, C.S.A.

#RIPMrsPhelpsTheLibrarian

Do you guys ever watch movies from the 90s and see an old person and think, ‘He/she is probs dead.’ Then feel really sad because it’s true? (This actress died in 2000).

Likewise, anyone who was a small child is now an adult. Obviously we know that Mara Wilson has always been roughly our age, but baby Matilda? You saw how old she is.

Harry Wormwood Is The Worst

“Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Harry Wormwood, the worst

Dark Matilda

You know, if this movie was cut differently, it could easily be a prequel to The Orphan or basically any horror movie which features a little girl as the demon. OH LOOK SOMEONE’S DONE THAT ALREADY. LIKE, MULTIPLE TIMES.

Plus, taking the magical powers out of it, even if you’re the loveliest teacher ever you don’t just get to KEEP THE KID THAT YOU LIKE. This movie definitely demands a dark recut.

Also Lissy Doll is a dead ringer for Matilda which is very Are You Afraid Of The Dark, if you ask me.

Michael Wormwood Is Dudley Dursely

And Matilda’s parents are Vernon and Petunia. Miss Honey is Dumbledore, but also Hagrid and Sirius.

Matilda is probably a Gryffindor but you can make an argument for Ravenclaw. Lavender is a Hufflepuff. I think Miss Honey has some Hufflepuff traits but she’s mainly brave, so Gryffindor.

Do We Think It’s Weird That This Is Set In The USA?

Roald Dahl is such a beloved British treasure that it feels kind of odd that this is set in the USA. I’m not exactly complaining because this movie is so perfect that I wouldn’t wish away any of it. I bet if this movie were made today there would be a big outcry about exporting it to the US and it would have been set in the UK instead.

To translate Crunchem School to the US system they had to create this weird public school that’s sort of like a bizarre private school. It all contributes to the storybook quality of the movie, so it’s fine.

Romper Room

I know what rompers are in modern fashion parlance but I always imagine those baggy calico overalls that Pigtail Amanda wears.

“You Chose Books, I Chose Looks”

Mrs. Wormwood’s taunt reminds me of something a snotty girl would have said in second grade. Also joke’s on her, Miss Honey is a fox and everybody knows it.

Cake By The Pound

“It’s hard for me to remember a specific cake.” Bruce Bogtrotter spittin the truth

I continue to think that chocolate cake looks like the best chocolate cake ever made (apparently the actor who played Bruce didn’t really like cake much, and Danny had his baker friend create a Magnolia Bakery-esque cake for the scene).

“I can’t look, is he going to puke?” – little Lavender’s delivery of this line is one of the best things in the whole movie, and that’s saying something.

Truncuhbull’s Not Wrong

Mrs. D. Mrs. I.
Mrs. F. F. I.
Mrs. C. Mrs. U.
Mrs. L. T. Y.

…why are all these women married?

This Score Is Perfect

Whether it’s the suspenseful music when they’re in Truncuhbull’s (ahem.. rightfully Miss Honey’s) House or the jaunty tune when Bruce is gorging on cake, this is a masterpiece and we’re retroactively annoyed about the missing Oscar. Did you ever notice that 90s kids’ movies, like Matilda, Home Alone, and The Parent Trap, had phenomenal scores, like filmmakers realized children could appreciate good things?

By the way, if you loved a movie in the 90s there’s an excellent chance David Newman was responsible for the score.

The 1972 Olympics

Trunchbull competed in the 1972 Olympics. This film was released in 1996. Ergo, the 2016 equivalent would be a principal who competed in the 1992 Olympics, which I can sort-of remember. Woof.

By the by, Trunchbull’s build is sort of a take on those poor East German athletes who were forced to take a lot of hormones, I think.

PeeWee Herman

… is in this??? I’m honestly not even including this as a thing you probably don’t know about Matilda. I’m just shocked I never noticed this.

Danny DeVito Is A Prince

You know the too-cute scene where Matilda dances around to Little Bitty Pretty One making objects move? In the behind the scenes footage, DeVito explains that Mara was a little nervous about doing that scene. He said “you know why? Because you’re the only one dancing” and made everyone on set – down to craft services – dance. I did some acting as a kid and a lot of adults just didn’t understand how kids think, but it seems like DeVito GOT IT and created a set that was every bit as magical as the movie.

I Don’t Think You’re Ready…

“Absolutely not, Molly” – My mother, Aisle 12 of Wegmans, 1995.

The Wormwoods have that peanut butter and jelly that is all swirled together in one jar and seriously they WOULD.

I Have Another Oscar Complaint

I want there to be a category for extras and bit players and I want it retroactively awarded to the children in Matilda’s class during the Trunchbull revenge scene.

We don’t need to talk about the special effects during that scene. They were doing their best.

Send Me On My Way

The closing scene is so perfect there’s nothing to say about it, so we’re just going to send you on your way.

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Miss Honey Is Wonderful

We want to welcome you all to Matilda Week, and nobody is more welcoming than Miss Jennifer Honey. As children we adored this kind-hearted teacher who recognized each child as a full, complex and important person. As adults, we are even more touched by Miss Honey as a survivor of a traumatic childhood who keeps her soft heart after years of abuse. She is a lesson in tenacity, warmth and loveliness. Miss Honey is wonderful.

Miss Honey Is Kind And Soft
Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

 

Fact: I adored my third grade teacher Ms. Cuthbert so much that when she invited her students to go to her wedding ceremony, I actually showed up. I sat near the back of the church with my parents and saw my teacher become Mrs. Hibbard. I watched in awe as one of my favorite teachers walked down the aisle in a gorgeous, puffy, 1993 gown, and wasn’t embarrassed at all to be there. Mrs. Hibbard was delightful, fun, and kind, but strict when she needed to be, and that’s exactly what you want in a teacher, and a teacher who will impact your life forever.

That’s what Miss Honey is. She truly cares about her kids as if they were her own, when she definitely doesn’t have to, especially given the environment of Crunchem Hall. She is so invested in her students and makes sure they are actually learning not only what was in their textbooks but about life itself. And she does it in a way that makes you feel like she’s more of an older sister, rather than an authoritative figure, making you more prone to listen and heed her instructions. She’s the kind of person that gave so much of herself to her class that she, too, would invite you to her wedding, and would give you a wink as she passed you while walking down the aisle.

Miss Honey Is Lovely

One day this summer I woke up from a dead sleep, thought “Miss Honey is my summer style inspiration,” wrote it down and went back to bed. I was right to think that. Miss Honey wears classic pastel dresses, understated makeup and has a non-dated hairstyle. Miss Honey is the teacher who keeps a tissue under her watch and that is so wonderfully specific. At one point in the movie she wears the best tortoiseshell glasses, although Book Miss Honey wears them all the time. Dahl never gets detailed about Miss Honey’s wardrobe, but I think the movie nailed it: she’s the kind of person who looks lovely first because it makes her happy to look nice, and second so that the children see that coming to school and teaching them matters to her.  Miss Honey has a “lovely pale oval madonna face with blue eyes and her hair was light brown.” It’s not so much important that she’s objectively pretty, but that the kids think she is — don’t you remember being 5 or 6 and thinking your favorite teacher was just the prettiest person in the world?

During the blog meeting where we discussed Matilda Week, we watched a clip of toddler Matilda making her own breakfast and pouring a glass of juice. Then they got to the moment when Matilda places a tiny flower in a vase and I think a scientist could have pinpointed the exact moment when both of our hearts broke (that’s what scientists do, right?). There was something so poignant about this little forgotten child not just surviving without help, but also making space for the little things that make life beautiful. I feel the same way when you learn about Miss Honey’s cottage: she has less than she deserves, but the lengths she goes to to make it neat and pleasant tell you a lot about her character.

Miss Honey’s house is “like an illustration in Grimm or Hans Anderson.” It is incredibly tiny and the water comes from a well outside. There are overturned boxes for chairs and a little camping stove to cook on. I used to imagine it would be like living in a child’s play fort. The cottage is less bleak in the movie, but both versions show that Miss Honey knows how important it is to find bits of loveliness in an ugly world. She also decorates her classroom with students’ artwork and bright colors, even though she has to hide it when the Trunchbull comes into the room – it’s that important for her class to be surrounded by loveliness.

More about Miss Honey's cottage here.

More about Miss Honey’s cottage here.

Miss Honey Treats People Like They’re Important

When I was 8 years old, I read Matilda and wanted to be the main character. Not so much levitating objects, I just felt positive that I was special and there was simply no Miss Honey to notice it. I devoured adult classics like Matilda did, but in hindsight I was, admittedly, ordinary. Except, of course, no child, no person, is ordinary. Miss Honey knew that intuitively and it influenced the way she treated every child in her classroom. If you look back and think of your very best teachers as a child (or your favorite babysitter or aunt or librarian), that is probably a quality they had: they looked you in the eye and saw a light that might not have been brighter or more beautiful than anybody else’s, but it was yours. Miss Honey notices that Matilda is unusually intelligent almost instantly. But she isn’t that teacher who only cares about the smartest or the most challenging pupils. Miss Honey writes easy words on the board for the more “average” kids and warns the whole class about the upcoming weekly test with Trunchbull. As they say in the movie, she “appreciates each child for who he or she is.” Miss Honey recognizes Matilda’s strengths not just as supernatural abilities, but as character traits that will help her throughout life: “It’s wonderful you feel so powerful. Many people don’t feel powerful at all.”

 

Miss Honey Is Stronger Than Her Past

Miss Honey is a survivor of trauma and lifelong abuse, and against the odds, she is much bigger than the worst things that have happened to her. After the deaths of her parents, Miss Honey lives under the control of her cruel aunt – the Trunchbull. It’s chilling how perfectly Dahl describes the invisible chains of an abusive relationship: “I became so scared of her I used to start shaking when she came into the room.” “Over the years I became so cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly.” “I was by then so dominated by my aunt to such an extent that I wouldn’t have dared [leave.]. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be completely controlled like that by a very strong personality.”

Here’s where I get amazed. Miss Honey wanted to go to university and was only allowed to go on the condition that she come home early every day to work for her aunt. When she graduated, Trunchbill docked her pay because Miss Honey “owed” her for the expenses of her childhood. Miss Honey finds a house and rents it on 10p a week and leaves, while still working in her aunt’s school because she loves to teach. Her past makes Miss Honey’s smaller moments of bravery, like confronting Trunchbull about Matilda’s grade level or approaching Matilda’s parents, nothing less than astonishing. It frames all of her qualities – kindness, appreciation of beauty, empathy for her students – not as traits, but as CHOICES that she has made and worked for and cultivated. Most of us aren’t born with extraordinary gifts like Matilda, but the idea that anybody can live a life of kindness and beauty after surviving such darkness — that is the real magic in Matilda.

 

All The Best Beverly Cleary Names

Beverly Cleary – creator of the most complex and believable child characters, all-around Best Grownup – turned 100 years old yesterday. The Ramona books remain so relatable and fresh that it’s very hard to grasp that the author was born four years after the Titanic sank, before the U.S. entered World War I, with Woodrow Wilson as the president. I absolutely love Ms. Cleary, but we’ll deal with Ramona during a C+S Book Club at a later date. Today, I want to talk about one of my favorite things about Cleary’s books as an adult: my, can that woman name a character. In fact, if I were having kids, I just might look to Beverly Cleary for inspiration.

Beverly

Yes, Beverly. Here’s why. Names cycle in popularity, and there’s a roughly 100-year span before an old name sounds fresh again. Parents don’t tend to use names of their own generation (not so many babies today named Tiffany and Kristen). They also don’t use their parents’ names – these days, those would be Boomer names (see: Barbara, Debbie). Even grandparent names (Shirley, Norma) don’t sound ready to use, at least for less adventurous namers. You have to go to great-grandparents before a name sounds old enough to be ripe for reconsideration. That’s why there are so many 20-40 somethings named things like Emily, Laura and Rebecca: they were popular in the second half of the 19th century. And that’s why today, names like Evelyn, Hazel, Charlotte and Lucy top the girls’ Social Security name rankings.

Beverly Cleary was on the early end of the Beverly trend, so it may fall in the grandma name category and have to sit on the shelf for a few more decades. But Beverly has some things going for it: it’s almost identical to the trendy girl name Everly, it’s a three-syllable surname-name like the popular Delaney and Kennedy, short-and-simple Bev is a lot like the appealing Niamh/Neve/Liv … AND it’s shared by beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary.

Ramona

If you’re looking for a very usable name that nobody’s really using, look no further than Ramona. It was given to 233 baby girls last year, not even landing in the top 1,000 names. Yet it’s familiar, easy to spell and has an awesome namesake in one Ramona Geraldine Quimby. Ramona even has music cred, and would make a more spry choice for a fan of the Ramones than Sheena or Judi. There’s a Dylan song called To Ramona, as well!

Potential drawback: it was used for the name of Kimmy Gibbler’s daughter in Fuller House. That’s not a bad association, and the show is not so popular that people will be like “oh, as in Ramona Gibbler?”. However, it could be the sign of future popularity – but not being in the top 1000, there’s a lot of room to grow before Ramona is a common choice.

Beatrice

Poor, beautifully named Beatrice, destined to a lifetime as Beezus thanks to her little sister. Beatrice is a major recipient of that 100-year trend I discussed above. It’s currently ranked at 601 in the U.S. (OK, hardly an Isabella or Emma situation), but in the early 2000s it was around number 1000. Actually, Beatrice was FAR less popular when the first Ramona book came out, and would have struck early readers as a funny, old-fashioned choice, like Gertrude or Bertha now. (Am I crazy, or is Gertrude a bit cute?) After taking a nap through most of the 20th century, Beatrice is back and ready to go, more of a neglected antique than a moth-eaten relic.

Good things about Beatrice: The great nicknames Bea, Bee, Trixie, and Betsy. Its use by Dante and Shakespeare. It sounds clearly feminine, but not frilly.

Bad things about Beatrice: nothing, really, except maybe that it was used in Divergent and may get more popular; also the unfortunate two-syllable pronunciation you sometimes hear (BEE-triss instead of BEE-a-triss).

Henry

Henry Huggins was the classic swell kid – a well-rounded but occasionally mischievous boy who loved palling around with his rescue dog, Ribsy (before rescue dogs were au courant). It’s exactly that image that has propelled Henry to number 33 on the charts. Henry can be the boy in jeans chasing his dog down the sidewalk just as easily as he can be a thinker (Thoreau), a king (I-VIII), or a ballplayer (Aaron). Henry has never been as ubiquitously popular as, say, Michael, nor as trendy as Aidan or Logan. And like Beatrice, it comes with nicknames: Hal, Harry (Prince Harry is, of course, a Henry), Henny and Hank.

Personal bias: one of my nephews and Favorite Humans I’ve Ever Known is named Henry.  We call him Hank for short.

Willa Jean

One of my coworkers has a little girl named Willa, and when she told me I think I may have swooned. Willa combines the best of new age-y nature name Willow, hipster granny names (Mabel, Harriet, Maisie), and the short-but-delicate girly names (Mila, Lila, Myla, Aria, Luna). User beware, Willa is on a steady climb from being obscure (given to only 30 babies the year we were born) to, if not trendy, at least fashionable (there were over 500 little Willas born in 2014). I can see Willa on a teen or an adult, but thanks to Willa Jean Kemp it’s easy to picture on a zwieback crumb-covered toddler.

Funny thing about the double-barreled name: it is really popular right now in the UK, where I’ve seen it described as an “American” thing. Uh-uh, guys. This is ALL on you: double names aren’t really a big trend in the USA. Jean is still a perennial middle name favorite, though, but if a family were using the name Willa today, they might consider a middle name more like….

Jane

Like Jane! It’s not quite as pervasive as today’s hot middles (Rose, Grace, I’m looking at you), but it’s still incredibly common because it just sounds so nice with so many names. However, Jane has so much substance and character that I’d prefer to see it shine in the first name spot. (As I mentioned in our Olsen twin character names post, it’s near the top of my Hypothetical Names List.) There are oodles of Janes throughout history, but my favorite will always be Miss Austen.

If you continued reading Beverly Cleary books into your later tween years, you’ll remember Jane from Fifteen, a novel about very 1950s teens doing very 1950s things.

Dorothy

Do you remember Ramona and Beezus’s mom’s name? Dorothy! Dorothy is one of those “why isn’t this popular yet” names, because it is right in the era of names that are coming back. Dorothy may remind you of the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz, but remember, it was based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s book. So, instead of picturing Dorothy on grannies who were born in the ’30s, try to see it on a little girl from the turn of the last century with one of those unnecessarily big hair bows and a pinafore. So cute, right? Dorothy’s another good one if you like nicknames: Dot, Dottie, Dora, Dory, Dolly and Thea. I can’t even deal with how cute.

Daisy

Ramona’s World was a little past my time, published in 1999, but it’s on my reading list as I work my way down the Ramona catalog with one of my nephews. In this book, Ramona is nine, she has a baby sis named Roberta, and her new BFFFL is neighborhood girl Daisy Kidd. It doesn’t get much better than Daisy, a flower name with a long history of use. I guess the most common complaint would be that it can sound a bit young, but I grew up with an old-fashioned nickname-name and it hasn’t hurt me a bit. My favorite way to get to Daisy: it’s a traditional nickname for Margaret, Marguerite and Margarita.

Susan

Susan (and Susannah) is right up there with Jane on my list of names I would totally bestow on a child some day. Susan has dignity and gravitas – and in the Ramona books, she also has boing-boing curls that are just begging to be pulled. (Whenever I wear my hair curly and people mess with it, I remember Ramona and the irresistible pull of the boing-boing curls.) Susan is still in the decline of its popularity trajectory, so you’ll have to give it another 30-50 years before it hits peak revival potential.

Susan Kusher was that girl who had her act TOGETHER. The girl in kindergarten whose dress was never messed up, and whose socks didn’t fall down, and who didn’t accidentally cry because the teacher didn’t call on her. I went to college with a Susan, and she had a lot of tidy headbands and sweater sets. If my name were Susan (but NOT Susie or Suzanne or Susannah, those are different), I wouldn’t get toothpaste on my shirt right before leaving the house or have a car full of dog hair. SUSAN, you guys. In terms that didn’t exist when Ramona The Pest came out, Susan is goals AF.

Austine

This is a fun one, isn’t it? It almost sounds almost like a modern trendy name, but Austine was the fun, scrappy friend in the 1951 novel Ellen Tebbits. The boy’s name Austin actually derives as a contraction of Augustin (as in St. Augustine, or Augusten Burroughs, depending on your frame of reference). So, I think the girls name Austine would be sort of a slimmed down version of Augustine/Augustina/Augusta. The –een names still read a bit midcentury (Kathleen, Colleen, Darlene, and so on)… but this is a neat name find, if nothing else.

Otis

It doesn’t get cooler than Otis. It’s got Otis Redding all over it, and is just the kind of vintage-y name everybody is looking for. It looks like it’s poised to enter the top 1000 next year, so while Otis is growing in popularity it is by no means there yet. Personally, I can think of hundreds of girl names I love but not quite as many boy names, simply because a lot of the classics lack character and I’m not at all into the trendy Jaden/Maddox/Landon  sort of thing. But Otis has both history and quirk, making a great match with the other Beverly Cleary names like Willa and Ramona.

Ralph

I think Ralph suffers a bit from midcentury burnout. And maybe also a bit from being a euphemism for “to vomit.” It’s not very popular right now (as in, not in the top 1000). But if you think about Ralph S. Mouse or Ralphie from A Christmas Story, it’s kind of cute, right? Like, if I actually picture Ralph on a small child it’s adorable. Besides, Alphie is all kinds of popular in the U.K., and it’s just a consonant away from Ralphie. You could always use the Rafe pronunciation, but that doesn’t feel easy, at least not in the U.S.

Honorable Mentions:

Picky Picky

Chevrolet

Mama From ‘All-Of-A-Kind Family’ Was Some Kind Of Genius: C+S Book Club

Sweep out the sukkah and check the china shepherdess for buttons, because it’s time for another edition of C+S Book Club! Rather than lamenting that Amy March is a total bitch, or revealing that Marilla Cuthbert was, in fact, a creepy church hag, today we’re going to talk about someone who is better than you and I could ever dream of being: Mama from Sydney Taylor’s All-Of-A-Kind Family. Mama was so clever and calculating that I almost wanted to call her an evil genius, but she was also the kindest, most chill mother in RL-4 chapter book history.

Look. I don’t have children. But I did read that one book about how our children would be classier if we raised them like French children, and I’ve seen some episodes of SuperNanny, which is a show about how our children would be classier if we raised them like British children from 1905. Plus I’ve read those articles that Facebook friends post about why children shouldn’t have technology and fast food, as well as those other articles that Facebook friends post about why children should have technology and fast food. And let me tell you: not a ONE of those so-called experts had anything on Mama. Case in point: her dusting scheme.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then chances are you didn’t read All-Of-A-Kind Family. If you did read it, the dusting ploy is seared in your memory along with chocolate babies and that time Henny got lost in Coney Island. (FREAKING HENNY, am I right?) The chapter was titled Dusting Is Fun, because it was 1951 and Sydney Taylor didn’t really have to try (honestly, what was her competition in children’s entertainment? The show Lassie. That’s it.). By the end of that chapter you, a grubby-faced 90s kid wearing a t-shirt decorated with puff paint, wished you were an old-fashioned child in the Lower East Side dusting for free. And for fun. That is how powerful Mama’s dusting plot was.

Ready for the scheme IN ITS ENTIRITY? Hold on to your pinafore. Mama hid buttons around the front parlor. By the way, their house only had like 4 rooms and one of them was a parlor used strictly for fancy decorations and pianos, that’s how high-class Mama was. Okay, so then the dusting girl had to find all of the buttons while she was dusting. Also Mama got straight-up sneaky with it, like those buttons were under table legs and piano keys. You had to DUST. IT. UP. If you found all of the buttons, you had done a good job dusting.

All right, let’s talk about the genius parts of this plan:

  1. The girls never knew how many buttons there were. Say you’ve found 5 buttons. You couldn’t just call it quits at that point, because maybe there were 9 buttons that day. You had to dust every damn thing, and only then could you be sure you had all of the buttons.
  2. Mama kept it fresh. Sometimes she’d bring out the buttons a few times a week, and sometimes she’d wait two weeks because what did she care, she had those little dusting girls under her spell and they would WAIT FOR IT. They’d wait for those buttons.
  3. In case you missed it, the prize was that you had done a good job dusting. Mama raised her kids to want to do a very good job at something because it feels good to know that you’ve done a very good job. Mama quarantined four children with scarlet fever in a spotless 4-room apartment during Passover; she knew that you didn’t get a ticker tape parade every time you did a damn chore.
  4. But Mama was the best ever because one week she hid a penny every day. Judging by how much candy the girls could buy for a penny, it was basically a dollar. Do you know how great it is to find a dollar when you’re cleaning? Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie sure do.

Mama wasn’t all dusting and parlors, though. She also was really good looking. The girls introduced her to the Library Lady and they were so proud because even though she had, at the time, 5 children, she didn’t look like the other women in the neighborhood: “like mattresses tied about the middle.” Which admittedly sounds harsh, but you know exactly what they mean. I’m sure they’d all love Mama just as much if she were a lumpy mattress-lady, but the point is Mama had a whole bunch of kids and her figure and outfits were still on point.

While Mama enforced rules, she was lenient when it mattered. When Sarah made that big fuss about not eating her rice soup that one day, Mama stuck to her guns, but once Sarah had a few bites of the gross congealed soup she let her move onto something more appetizing. (I loved re-reading that chapter, because it so reminded me of when you’d get stubborn about something or throw a fit as a kid, and you wouldn’t even know why you were doing it, but you couldn’t will yourself to stop.) And when Gertie and Charlotte used their pennies to buy candy and crackers and ate them in bed, Mama played it like she had no clue, just because it makes kids feel smart and important having a secret.

The All-Of-A-Kind Family was medium-poor. They were second generation-ish Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side in 1912 long before their neighborhood became some sort of real estate holding for foreign billionaires. However, Papa had a scrap shop and they lived on one floor of a house instead of in a crowded tenement, so they were doing pretty okay. Mama was really good at being medium-poor. She was frugal where it counted, but she still allowed for splurges like a trip to Coney Island, or a treat when they went to the market.

If I can have one quibble about Mama, it’s that she finally had a boy and she named it Charlie. Look. One of my favorite real-life little boys is named Charley. It’s a great name. PLUS Adult Charlie from the book is such a cool grownup. You spend the whole time hoping that he and the Library Lady will meet and hit it off and … well. You know the rest. (Also: another post about the Library Lady, maybe?). So it’s great that Mama names a kid after him. It’s just … Mama. Did you forget you already have a Charlotte? She’s going to have so much Middle Child Syndrome. On the whole Mama picked good names – Library Lady even said! – so I can’t be too annoyed. And at least she didn’t name him after Uncle Hyman.

Library Lady = the Miss Honey of this series.

If I have kids, I’m going to skip the parenting guide telling me to make my children be more French. I’ll bypass the naughty step. I’ll steer clear of the Facebook click-bait. As far as I’m concerned, the best parenting guide there is this one weird old chapter book with no real plot. If I am even 1/10th of the benevolent evil genius Mama is, I think my kids would turn out just fine.

 

When Heaven Was A Scholastic Book Order

“Take one and pass the rest back.” In elementary school in the 1990s, those seven words were the key to every bookworm’s dream world. It was a Friday afternoon, your teacher didn’t care anymore, and you had 15 minutes to leaf through four very filmy pages of the Scholastic Book Order — which was like the Sears Wish Book for a very specific type of kid.

When I think back on it, the whole thing was so 90s, and not in that cute fake way of tumblr fashion blogs.  We had to mark the books we wanted in pen, copy the order numbers onto the form on the back, and then ask for a check from our parents. An honest-to-goodness CHECK, like they probably have in history museums now.

In hindsight, the whole system seems fraught with error and it almost feels like a miracle that any of us got the books we asked for. But one day a few weeks later you’d spot those Scholastic boxes in the front of the classroom, and sure enough there was the 3-pack of Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, and The Witch Of Blackbird Pond, just like you ordered. I imagine this trio was called The Future NPR Listeners Sampler, or the Someday You’ll Own Cats Club Pack.

The real Cadillac of the Scholastic order was the club subscription (usually located on the back page, lower right, if memory serves). You’d get a new book every month and a pointless academic accessory like a pencil topper. Pencil toppers were cool then, okay? They were like the iPhone covers of 1996. Plus there were special bonuses, like a cassette tape featuring an interview with Ann M. Martin if you joined the Baby-Sitters Club Club (I assume it had a better name, but honestly maybe not). Let that sink in for a while. Before internet,if you wanted to learn about an author who wasn’t in the encyclopedia, you had to fill out a paper order, send a check, and then listen to an audio cassette.

Ann M. Martin had cats too, by the way.

The Scholastic order was also the number-one source for hot celebrity gossip, full of Unauthorized Biographies With 8 Pages Of Full-Color Photos. Sure, children these days have celebs’ actual Twitter and Instagram accounts at their fingertips, but back then it was enough to read that JTT’s favorite dessert was apple pie a la mode, or that Tay, Zac and Ike share a bedroom.

Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday that you were reading those factoids? Well, Tay, Zac, and Ike now have a cumulative nine children. That’s 3 Hansons. Or an Mmm Mmm Mmm Bop.

You would think that now, when I could find any book on Amazon in seconds, the Scholastic orders wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. But I found a few Troll and Arrow Book Club catalogs online, and I can almost smell the new book smell … and feel the papercuts. That thin-ply book order paper was for some reason notorious for paper cuts.

This has everything I remember about 90s book orders. There are pencils that, even 20 years ago, you could have bought for far less at a grocery store. Athlete bios. An inside look at the cast of 90210 with a RAP ROUNDUP (not sure what that is). I especially like how they call it “book club news,” as though they aren’t trying to sell us stuff, just keeping us informed that Midnight In The Dollhouse is only $.95.

Friends, we truly lived in a magical time. On the same page, you have Hook and Addams Family novelizations, Laura Ingalls, American Girl, and Babysitters Club. This is calling up more childhood memories than looking at family photos (because when the photos were taken, I was probably somewhere reading a book).

Ah, yes. 1991. When all the kids were clamoring for a paperback about Nelson Mandela. The Room Upstairs, an Anne Frank-y tale of World War II peril, contains a surprising number of exclamation marks in the blurb. And that pig eraser… just me, or did those gummy jumbo erasers never actually erase anything?

Lincoln, MLK, Edgar Allan Poe, medical mysteries … just some chill light reading for 9-year-olds. Boomers can knock millennials all they want, but don’t they see that we spent our childhoods heavy-burdened by their hopes, dreams, and expectations? As well as by a complete set of Boxcar Children books? That series was dope. Henry, Jessie, Violet, and the other one, right?

It’s so weird to think that most of us got these orders regularly as kids, and then one day – and you didn’t even know it was the day – you read your last one. You started buying your books at stores, and eventually the internet. You recorded over the Ann M. Martin tape doing fake commercials in Austin Powers voices at a slumber party. I haven’t seen a pencil topper in decades. But the memories live on … as do the large stack of unauthorized biographies sitting somewhere in your parents’ attic.

Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man Or D-Bag: C+S Book Club

Gilbert Blythe just died again. I say again because, had the fictional Gilbert been a real person, he’d be about 120 years old, and sorry friends – or sore-y, Canadian friends – there’s just no way. But for a lot of us, Gilbert lived and breathed through the 1980s CBC Anne Of Green Gables movies. Jonathan Crombie was a Toronto youth acting in school plays when he was cast as Gilbert, and he made the character more lovable than I think he even was on the page.

When Crombie died earlier this month, we lost a little bit of Gilbert Blythe. Ah, but which Gilbert Blythe? Things aren’t always black and white in Avonlea (don’t get me wrong, Avonlea is  very, very white, insomuch that Anne’s red hair is a real exotic shot of diversity). In a previous C+S Book Club installment, we dispelled the idea of Marilla Cuthbert as a kindly yet stern benefactress: in my heart, she is first and foremost a creepy church hag. Likewise, one could argue that Gilbert Blythe is an early 1900s dream man – but just as easily, he could be an old-timey sarsaparilla-scented burlap douchebag. Let’s discuss.

Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag

I’ll defer to our Anne of Green Gables synopsis from our last post about the book: “Published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story is a timeless tale of orphans and family and imagination and screwing up your hair and dreams and getting your friend drunk by accident and Canada and Canadians and will they/won’t they romance and child-buying. Especially child-buying. When Anne, a plucky carrot-topped orphan with a heart of gold, ends up in Green Gables, she brings love, light, and happiness to Matthew and Marilla, a brother and sister who are married or whatever. ” Today, we look into the romance in question, between Anne – a child nobody has ever loved, who longs to achieve despite an early childhood deprived of education – and Gilbert, a boy who has parents and stuff but is still really mean to the orphan who wasn’t allowed to go to school.

I mean, Gilbert. First of all. Your top academic rival is a little girl who had to raise a litter of Garbage Pail twins and talk to herself in the woods instead of going to school. You think she’s weird? I don’t know, maybe it’s because her only childhood friend was herself, in a mirror. Then she finally gets to interact with humans and basically manages not to seem like a feral child – success! And you mock her, day 1. Kind of a dick move, Blythe.

If you’ve forgotten, Gilbert called Anne “carrots” and pulled her hair. Here’s something boys don’t seem to get: it hurts when you pull hair, because that shit is hooked onto your scalp. Also, “carrots” is sort of a juvenile insult for a thirteen-year-old. Oh, what’s that? Isn’t Anne 11? Yeah, she is – but Gilbert missed school for a few years to help out his sick dad or something. If Anne of Green Gables were a 1980s sitcom that’s the part where Anne would scream “Yeah? Well at least you HAVE a father!” and storm off. But the point is, at thirteen it’s pretty pathetic to have to make fun of a child two years younger than you, much less one who is the indentured servant of a mean old bag and an elderly man who’s afraid of her. I’m sure it’s in part due to Gilbert’s teasing that Anne dyed her hair green that one time.

In our last Anne Of Green Gables post, I posited that we could call an Anne and Gilbert post “Anne And Gilbert: Shit Or Get Off The Pot,” or alternately, “Anne And Gilbert: When You Hate Someone It’s Probably Not Because You Secretly Love Them.” If you’re a young lady, I want you to repeat that last title to yourself a few times until it really sinks in. When you hate someone, it’s probably not because you secretly love them. Also, if a boy treats you like garbage it’s probably because he’s garbage, not because he’s in love with you and doesn’t know how to show it. What nonsense is that? But people believe it, and maybe Anne and Gilbert are a little to blame. Or maybe …. maybe she liked him for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, he was the dirtbag of her dreams.

Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man

First of all, in Gilbert’s defense, Anne is kind of an idiot. We know that she grew up in shacks and orphanages, and we aren’t saying it’s her fault she’s an idiot, but she still is. It’s like when that homeschooled kid whose parents forgot to socialize her would transfer to your school, and she just didn’t grasp social norms. You understood that she was struggling with the whole… milieu, or what have you…. but that didn’t mean you particularly wanted to hang out on weekends (don’t worry, I know, #NotAllHomeschoolers).

So, yeah, he did call her carrots. She was particularly sensitive about her red hair, so I do get that. But that was ONE TIME. Chill, Anne. You’re going to let that follow you for your entire high school experience, or whatever you call high school when it’s a one-room schoolhouse and your teacher is banging Prissy Andrews? He pulled your hair, he didn’t kill your parents. He couldn’t because you don’t have any. As far as insults go, carrots is pretty weak. Hair-pulling is admittedly shitty, but holy cow, Anne broke a slate over his head. Slates were what chalkboards were made of before Pinterest invented chalkboard paint, and those things had sharp edges. Disproportional use of force, Anne. Jeez. Anything stupid Gilbert did after that point is probably because you concussed him.

Also, Gilbert isn’t the one who declared an academic rivalry; that was all Anne. And when you really think about it, she picked the kid who had been out of school for two years taking care of a parent (pressed much?). Talk about low-hanging fruit.

Anne didn’t really chill out until Gilbert saved her life. Gilbert wouldn’t have had to save Anne’s life if she hadn’t set herself off down a body of water pretending to be a poem. Classic Anne, y’all. Also I was joking that it’s Gilbert’s fault she dyed her hair green; that was her own shit.

My take? As a kid, I was firmly in the Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag camp. He reminded me of boys who would make fun of me for having red hair, or freckles, or reading too much. But now I see that Anne needs to get a damn grip. A lot of people are kind of awful when they’re 13. I’d go so far as to say that most kids hit a developmental stage of just being horrible people somewhere around middle school. So Gilbert made fun of you one time? Meh. No big. I’m glad that Anne eventually realized that he had a good heart, sharp mind, and awesome hair so their six kids weren’t all total carrots. And considering they named their son Shirley, those kids needed all the help they could get.

 

Go Suck An Icicle: Pro-Snow Culture Hurts Children, Adults, Everyone

I thought that my TV said that it was 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside this morning. It didn’t. It said negative ten. I looked out at my snow-covered car and driveway and wanted to cry. I’m pretty sure I have shoveled every day for a month, and most of those days have been in the single digits or below. Yesterday my car ran like a cross between tumblr and a Little Golden Book: “I think I can’t. I think I can’t. I can’t.” The only vehicle that could safely drive outside right now is a Zamboni. My toes are blue. You know what I wore this morning? My clothes. Like, all of my clothes. If you have a grandmother, please check on her, because I appear to be covered in an old lady’s skin.

And lest you think I’m just bad at winter, know how Boston has had 100 inches of snow so far? That’s my city’s average every winter. I’m used to this, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Now is probably the time for a post about appreciating the simple joys of winter, or a chipper reminder that spring is just around the corner. I’m not in the mood for that. I’m so tired of our pro-snow culture. Snow propaganda targets our most vulnerable population – children – and tells them that snow and cold is somehow okay.  It needs to stop.

Snow Forts

When I was a child, every time we’d get a foot or two of snow I’d rush out with a shovel, gloves, and buckets and start building a snow fort. We had mammoth snow castles, with walls taller than I was and hollowed-out snow living rooms with built-in benches. When we were done we’d douse the whole thing in water so that it would become solid.

And do you know what all of that was? It was practice for being an adult who has to shovel in order to get out of your house to go to work. Bet nobody told you THAT when you were seven. Snow forts, I cordially invite you to go suck an icicle.

A Snowy Day

This beautifully illustrated children’s classic is beloved by kids, teachers and parents alike. It’s about a little boy who’s too stupid to know that snow is awful. And it’s responsible for propagating the myth that snow is somehow fun or exciting. My only consolation is that little Peter is now an adult who has to shovel out a section of yard so that his dog doesn’t poop in the house. Yeah. Those are the things children’s books don’t tell you about winter. Ezra Jack Keats is one of my favorite children’s authors, but from the icy shores of Winter 2015, I say that A Snowy Day can go eat snowballs.

The Chronicles Of Narnia

I, too, have a portal that brings me into a snow-covered landscape of crystalline cold. It’s called a door. As in, any freaking door in the entire Northeastern United States.

If I were the Pevensie children, I would have boarded up that wardrobe and maybe set it on fire to make it go away. And also for warmth. Because it’s freezing.

C.S. Lewis wrote an entire allegorical series about a mythical land that just looks like outside. Why are we celebrating this again? Narnia, go bleed a radiator.

Most Of The Jan Brett Cannon

Oh, lets all wear Fair Isle sweaters and frolic in the snow! That’s the harmful message of most of Jan Brett’s Scandinavian-inspired story books. Let’s flounce around with woodland creatures in the snowy forest! I can’t believe I fell for that hogwash as a kid. From the story about the idiot grandma who makes her grandson snow-white mittens, to the tale of the stretchy hat that a bunch of animals hide in to avoid a frigid death, these books try to make outerwear into something greater than it is. Cute illustrations, fun to read to children, but Jan Brett books can go snort road-slush.

Frozen

No. I do NOT want to build a snow man. And I’ll never know if an act of true love can thaw this mess, because right now I hate everything. Frozen can go lick snow tires.

The North Pole

What a harmful myth. Not the whole Santa thing, but that a mega-productive society can exist in the most frigid and snow-laden part of the world. In real life the elves would show up 20 minutes late to work every day, everybody would be out sick half the time, and the leading cause of death would be shoveling heart attacks. You want to make a toy for every child in the world, station yourself in Italy or Mexico. For every employer who doesn’t understand that it took you an extra half hour to drive to work and that you can’t stay late when your city is in white-out, we can blame the North Pole. Santa and his elf-slaves can go blow a snowblower. I’m done.

Tiny Crush Tuesday: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

I think everyone knows what it’s like to feel tiny. Maybe, like me, you waited around for a late high school growth spurt, only to find it leaving you at 5’2 (if they invent time travel, please tell my nine-year-old self that she can shelve that copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for another decade or so, and also that those exercises don’t work). Even if you aren’t physically small, you’ve probably been the least-accomplished person in your grad school classes, or the new guy at work. If you’ve always felt both full-sized and adequate, that’s very nice but you can stop reading and go back to self-actualizing and exceeding expectations and knowing what’s on the top shelf of your cupboard; we’re done here.

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is a big star – the focus of three YouTube videos and two books –  who knows a thing or two about being tiny. The Marcel videos have garnered millions of YouTube views; the third video, posted yesterday, is edging up on a million hits already. A big factor in his success is that while most of us are not sneaker-wearing mollusks, we all know what it’s like to feel small. I mean, except for those large, successful people who we dismissed in the first paragraph. But that little shell is so self-assured and confident, and doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry that he can’t nibble on cheese without experiencing a cholesterol event, or that his sister Marissa took an ill-fated journey on a balloon.

Sure, Marcel has a few setbacks. He has to deal with the idiots of the sea (shrimps), wishes he had a dog (although lint is a shell’s best friend), and longs for a nickname (don’t we all? I finally got one in college, but it was Smalls, and I tried telling everyone that it was stupid, but I don’t think they could hear me because my tiny voice died out before it floated up to their ears). And he fears his household Bichon, who, like so many Bichons before him, has a distinctive face-smell and only cares about snoozin’ and treats. But Marcel handles everything in a matter-of-fact way, with these little bursts of confidence. It reminds you that moments of tininess are a part of the human experience (and shell experience as well?)  that you can acknowledge without shame, because everyone’s been there. Except those buffoons from paragraph one.

But while adults feel small some of the time, children feel small all of the time. Do you have children in your family? You can’t buy their love, but you also don’t need to. The three Marcel shorts are free on YouTube. Marcel is my nieces’ and nephews’ favorite thing ever. I know you aren’t supposed to get small children to calm down by sticking them in front of a screen, but frankly they aren’t my children and these videos work better than anything else I’ve tried. Marcel videos have defused so many grumpy kid moments, and garnered me so much Fun Aunt status, that I think I owe Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp some kind of Edible Arrangement or cookie bouquet. And for Marcel, a single cherry cordial that he could work his way through over the course of several holiday seasons.

Even better, if you know children or were one once, Marcel is the star of two fantastic children’s books. The first, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me, has the nephew seal of approval: I bought it for Hank’s fourth birthday in July and he’s nearly worn it out. The second, The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been, hits bookstores today. The first book, at least, is also available as an audiobook if your Marcel voice isn’t up to par. As I start to realize that my favorite childhood books were about self-important jerks like Amy March and creepy church hags like Marilla Cuthbert, it always feels nice when you find picturebooks that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Weirdly specific selling point: Things About Me is hand-lettered in a spidery curlicue script. This means that you get to read the book out loud to kids who are independent readers but haven’t learned cursive yet. After kids learn to read there are fewer and fewer chances to read aloud to them, but it’s good for them. And for you: makes you feel big, makes them feel small, which – Marcel would tell you – isn’t so bad.

Marilla Cuthbert Was A Creepy Church Hag : C+S Book Club

If you’re Canadian, imaginative, bookwormish, or red-headed, chances are at some point you read and loved Anne of Green Gables. Published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story is a timeless tale of orphans and family and imagination and screwing up your hair and dreams and getting your friend drunk by accident and Canada and Canadians and will they/won’t they romance and child-buying. Especially child-buying. When Anne, a plucky carrot-topped orphan with a heart of gold, ends up in Green Gables, she brings love, light, and happiness to Matthew and Marilla, a brother and sister who are married or whatever. Not to ruin this children’s classic for you, but Marilla wasn’t a kindly old lady trying to give an orphan a new start in life. She was a creepy church hag. Here’s why:

Marilla Tried To Buy A Little Boy To Do Chores

When her brother-husband got too old to run the farm, Marilla did the only logical thing (if you’re creepy and also awful) – she bought an orphan boy to do chores. Or tried to, because she got sent an orphan girl instead. Like Target, the orphan asylum has a pretty liberal return policy, but to her credit Marilla does keep the kid.

There Are Church Ladies, And Then There Are Church-Hags

… and Marilla is the latter. She initially kept Anne on a trial basis, like a mail-order vacuum. Even after she made up her mind, she wasn’t so sure about Anne –  because as a neglected orphan/indentured servant, I guess Anne’s bosses forgot to teach her about Jesus. Keep in mind, Anne was 11 and had already raised two families of what I can only picture as 19th century Garbage Pail Kids, so I guess she didn’t have time for scripture. Sorry Church-Hag, but she didn’t. To her credit (?), Marilla tried to buy a pre-Christianized orphan: she specifically told Rachel that she didn’t want a “London street Arab.” When Anne screwed up her bedtime prayers because nobody had ever cared about her enough to tuck her into bed and teach her social norms, Marilla said “Don’t you know it’s a terrible wicked thing not to say your prayers every night? I’m afraid you are a very bad little girl.”  But later,  when Anne tells Marilla about her boring day at church, “Marilla felt helplessly that all this should be sternly reproved, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said […] were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity.”

Yep. Marilla doesn’t even like church, but she’s still obsessed with it and tells small children that they’re “very bad” because nobody told them how to pray. And that, my friends, is a Church-Hag.

And Remember That Shit With The Brooch?

This is like 50% Marilla being a creepy church hag and 50% Anne being an idiot, so maybe you get the family you deserve. Anne gets all worked about about going to her first picnic and eating her first ice cream, and although picnics are uniformly less fun than you think they’d be (it’s seriously just eating, but outside), ice cream is awesome and she’s right to care so much. But Anne borrows Marilla’s brooch and leaves it on her shawl, and then Marilla thinks Anne stole it because orphans and heathens or something. So Marilla says Anne can’t go to the picnic unless she confesses to taking it. Anne gives a false confession under duress, and I can’t blame her because I would have confessed to murder when I was 11 if it meant I could get some Ben & Jerry’s. Still would. Then Marilla’s all “well, now you definitely can’t go to the picnic,” and Anne doesn’t know that picnics are lame yet so she is pissed. Then they find the brooch, and Marilla learns a valuable lesson that non-church hags never really need to learn in the first place: not to badger orphan children into confessing things they never did because you can’t keep proper inventory of your own stupid brooches.

She Uses Wine “Medicinally” … But We All Know What’s Up

Anne tries to give Diana raspberry cordial, but accidentally (or “accidentally”) rips into Marilla’s secret stash of currant wine instead. Marilla makes the following excuses and admissions:

  • “Well, this story will be a nice handle for those folks who are so down on me for making currant wine” – so, it’s known in the community that Marilla has a problem.
  • ” I haven’t made any for three years ever since I found out that the minister didn’t approve”- EVEN YOUR MINISTER, Marilla. Even your minister.
  • “I just kept that bottle for sickness.” – AKA withdrawal tremors
  • “[The currant wine] couldn’t have the least effect on anybody” – well, no, not if your tolerance is off the charts.

 

Bitch, If You Have Enough Money To Buy A Human Child, You Can Afford Puffed Freaking Sleeves

Damn, Church-Hag. I don’t know the going rate for a chore-orphan in the early 1900s, like how many toonies or whatever, but if you have that kind of money you can probably buy that kid the ugly dresses she wants. So you have to buy a few extra yards of fabric for the kid’s stupid sleeves? Most teenagers at some point will tell you that they “didn’t ask to be born” but seriously, Anne didn’t ask to be born, orphaned, leased out as a work-horse to human breeding farm Mrs. Hammond, so starved for human contact in an orphanage that she creates imaginary friends in the mirror like Tom Hanks on a deserted island with a soccer ball, bought by old married siblings by accident, and then given the worst dresses. Do you know what Marilla dressed Anne in before Matthew took pity on her and bought her those ass-ugly sleeves? Wincey. I Googled it. It’s basically burlap.

Like, did you spend so much buying your orphan that you have to dress her in bag material? That’s not just cruel, that is straight-up terrible budgeting. Get an accountant, Church-Hag. Maybe you could work out a budget to save up for a heart.

You Are The Company You Keep. Marilla’s Company Is Rachel Lynde.

You know those people who manage to insult everyone, but everyone makes excuses for them? That’s Rachel Lynde, Actual Worst Person In The World. So by association, Marilla is the Actual Worst Person In The World. Marilla may be your classic Creepy Church Hag, but Rachel is an even more insidious Church Hag – the normal-seeming gossipy kind who makes fun of orphans. Rachel doesn’t even like Marilla. She compares Marilla and Matthew’s living situation to getting used to being hanged – which, also, is Rachel some kind of idiot, because I’m 100% sure you don’t get used to that over time, you just get more and more dead. Rachel is the kind of mean old bag who meets a motherless child and says things like “She’s terrible skinny and homely. […]  Lawful heart, did any one ever see such freckles? And hair as red as carrots! ” That one got me in the gut, as a fellow skinny, freckly redheaded kid and also a human with feelings. But Marilla makes Anne apologize for calling Rachel out, because Marilla is a high-school girl who is friends with the queen bee because she’s too afraid not to be friends with her. Frankly if I want this kind of petty Canadian mean-girling I would just watch season one Paige and Ashley on Degrassi.

Oh. The other “company” Marilla “keeps” is the child she bought by accident, so that doesn’t really speak too well of her either, does it?

The Legacy Lives On

Despite her creepiness, Marilla has some good points. She does decide to keep Anne, and doesn’t do a totally awful job raising her, and Anne is so dense and weird that I can’t blame Marilla for getting frustrated sometimes. When Anne and Gilbert finally get their act together, they even name a kid after her (and honestly, that’s a whole other post — Anne And Gilbert: Shit Or Get Off The Pot, or alternately, Anne And Gilbert: When You Hate Someone It’s Probably Not Because You Secretly Love Them). Marilla was a creepy church hag, there’s no doubt about it, but she was at least a sort of crusty, lovable creepy church hag. In fact, if I ever buy a child to do chores for me, I hope I can be half of the owner-parent that Marilla was to Anne.

 

 

Amy March Was A Total Bitch

Growing up in the 1990s, it was sort of normal for a girl to be into the 1800s. The American Girl catalog was in your mailbox, the Little House books were in your Scholastic orders, and everyone had a mom or grandma who was really into Dr. Quinn. The 1994 film adaptation of Little Women was right in the zeitgeist. When I saw that it was on tv around Christmas, nostalgia got the better of me. I had to watch. And, umm… something jumped out at me that didn’t when I was a kid. So, I decided to re-read the book on my bus rides to and from work, and it was confirmed.

Amy March was a huge freaking bitch.

I accepted early on that Amy was my March counterpart. While I loved writing and piano, I was neither a free-spirited tomboy like Jo nor a gentle, shy dead girl like Beth. And Meg — seriously, did anyone ever want to be Meg? Leave a comment if you did. No, I was an Amy. I’m also the youngest of four, and I – like many youngest children – am kind of hammy and want everyone to love me. Like the youngest March sister,  I’m even the only one of my siblings to miss out on getting a nickname. Alcott never mentioned it, but I just know that Amy felt like she got the shaft there.

So,while it does pain me to say this, let me repeat: Amy March was a total bitch. Let’s discuss:

Nobody Cares About Your Nose, Amy.

Amy hates her nose, which is described as a small, flat snub nose. Oh, so an adorable nose? A nose that is too cute? What a trial that must be – like those girls who complain about being “too pretty.”

Amy wants a “Roman Nose,” which according to Wikipedia, is “a human nose with a prominent bridge, giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent.” Wow, March. Have you ever got shit taste in noses. That’s probably what my nose looks like, and you know how I got it? Not by sleeping with a clothespin on it – no, I  broke it. Twice.

Oh, You’re Too Good for Hand-Me-Downs? Can it, Amy.amy-little-women-helen-page

The hardest thing in Beth’s life was dying of scarlet fever and the hardest thing in Jo’s life was having a dumb-bitch little sister who stole her manuscript, Eurotrip, and Laurie, but Amy — the hardest thing in her life was having a tiny, cute nose and having to wear hand-me-downs.

Alcott writes: “Amy was in a fair way to be spoiled, for everyone petted her, and her small vanities and selfishness were growing nicely. One thing, however, rather quenched the vanities. She had to wear her cousin’s clothes. Now Florence’s mama hadn’t a particle of taste, and Amy suffered deeply at having to wear a red instead of a blue bonnet, unbecoming gowns, and fussy aprons that did not fit. Everything was good, well made, and little worn, but Amy’s artistic eyes were much afflicted, especially this winter, when her school dress was a dull purple with yellow dots and no trimming.”

Look, I had a cousin who was an only child, and her mom shopped at the good stores. The day I’d get the big black trash bag of her hand-me-downs was like a freaking holiday. Oh, Florence’s mama sent you a red bonnet? Well my cousin’s mama sent me skorts and shortalls, and I was happy to have them.

Amy. Limes Are Stupid.

Poor thing. Always thwarted in her search for citrus fruits.

Pickled limes were the fashion at Amy’s school, because apparently she was educated with a bunch of other little dummies. So, Meg gave Amy the rag money to buy some limes, and I’m not even completely clear on what “rag money” is, but I’m pretty sure that if your family is poor enough to rely on something called rag money to supplement your income, safe to say you’re pretty hard up and shouldn’t be wasting your money on preserved citrus fruits.

Limes were outlawed in Amy’s classroom, but obviously all of the kids still brought them in, kind of like tamagochis in my school, circa 1998. [Sidenote: the spell-check suggestion for tamagochis is “masochists,” which is pretty apropos. What were we doing to ourselves? At least when limes are the 6th-grade trend, you don’t have to sneak off to feed it every 3 hours.] But, Amy wouldn’t give this girl Jenny a lime because Jenny was being a total bitch, so Dumb Bitch Jenny told the teacher that Amy had limes. He made Amy throw the limes into the snow and Amy had a fit even though a citrus fruit will do just fine in the snow. As a matter of fact, Amy couldn’t have known this, but in like 70 years they’ll invent this magical box that keeps food cold all of the time and – will wonders never cease – the food lasts longer. Also Amy’s limes are PICKLED, which admittedly is gross, but it means they can stay outside for a minute. [However, the limes do get stolen. We’ll go there later.]

Oh, and then the teacher hit Amy’s hand, which was majorly not cool. Our biggest bitches in this story are really the teacher and Dumb Bitch Jenny. Still, Amy’s a bit at fault for squandering the family’s rag money on some stupid limes.

Amy March Hates Irish People. This Irish Person Says Amy March Can Suck It.

The Republic of Ireland has retaliated by naming its least-appealing souvenir porcelain doll after Amy March.

When Amy’s limes got thrown into the snow, she wasn’t upset because she lost her limes – she was upset because the limes were “exulted over by the little Irish children, who were their sworn foes.” Yep, Amy March’s sworn foes were anonymous Irish street urchins. You bet your sweet bippy that one didn’t make the Winona Ryder movie. It wasn’t losing the limes that made Amy cry like – forgive me – a little bitch, it was the Irish kids getting the limes.

Amy. You live in Boston. Concord, whatever. You know those little Irish street children? They’re going to run your city. In 100 years, the descendants of one of those lime-eating Boston Street Micks is going to be our nation’s president. Your city’s basketball team is literally going to be called the Celtics. Don’t worry about what basketball is. If your grandchildren ever get arrested, you know who’s going to do it? An Irish cop. But you don’t even have to wait 100 years. Even in the 1860s, every one of those Irish kids has a pack of 14 siblings to back them up in a fight. And those kids are scary. They have been working in silk mills since they were 5. You know how my great-great-great grandmother survived the Potato Famine? By eating GRASS. Honestly, poor Irish children from Boston in the 1860s are probably the worst “sworn foes” you could make.

So, on behalf of Irish and part-Irish Americans, let me just tell Amy March that she can suck it. Know what she can’t suck, though? A lime – because the Irish kids got them. Booyah, March.

Ruining the ONE THING Your Sister Loves? Pretty Bitchy.

Remember when Amy was a little piss who burned her sister’s manuscript because Jo dared to have fun without her? God. What is your beef with Jo, Amy? Tell me. Because it’s sort of a recurring theme throughout the book.

On the plus side, I’d like to thank Amy March for the world’s first lesson that you should always, always back up your work.

You’re Using It Wrong, Ames.

I just cannot with this basic girl and her five-cent vocabulary. Honestly, though, Amy is 12 when the book starts, and that’s an 1860s 12. In 1860s Massachusetts, you could be a six-year veteran of the mills at 12. You could be betrothed at 12. But no, Marmee sent Amy to the ol’ schoolhouse instead, probably because of the child’s demonstrated inability to speak the English language. Look, Amy wasn’t spending her time watching tv or instagramming. The only thing to do was read books and learn how to use words properly, yet she was somehow incapable of doing it. For instance: “label” for “libel” (when she actually meant slander) and “vocabilary” for “vocabulary.” You just know this bitch says “liberry” and “pisgetti.”

I’m not saying I’m glad her teacher beat her at school, because I’m not, I’m just saying that if any of the March sisters deserved a formal education, it wasn’t Amy. All I know is, if Amy March lived today, she’d be that little cousin of yours whose tweets and Facebook posts are so incomprehensible that you basically have to do an English-to-English translation every time you read them.

She’s not even that good at art so maybe she should just shut up about it.

Amy March isn’t a real person, but she was somewhat based on Louisa May Alcott’s sister Abigail May. May probably had a lot of gifts and talents, but art wasn’t one of them. Here are some of her drawings:

Compare the scale of Marmee(?) in the chair with the girl to the right. It’s like a Cabbage Patch doll next to a Barbie.

My favorite part is the floating table.

May died young, and that’s sad, but you know what else is sad? These sketches.

I Ain’t Sayin’ She’s A Gold Digger (Yes, I am. Yes, she is.)

So, first Amy gold-digs her way into Fred Vaughn’s heart. Then, she sees the opportunity to get with Laurie, who in addition to being wealthy, also provides her with the opportunity to ruin Jo’s life. So, she does that instead. Either way, she’s a gold-digger.

Steals Jo’s Trip

Eyes on the prize, Li’l Amy. Eyes on the prize.

Jo put up with Aunt March’s Crappy Plumfield Storytime every day, with the understanding that at some point she’d get a Eurotrip out of the deal. Look, for a 20-year-old girl in the 1800s, it wasn’t as easy as just finding a college with a good study abroad program.

Then, Amy – freaking Amy – swoops in, befriends Aunt March, and gets the trip. As an indirect result, Jo had to move to a boarding house and marry an old German man.

Steals Jo’s Man

Jo and Laurie were endgame. I refuse to hear differently. Sure, Jo shot down Laurie’s proposal, but I think it was just the wrong time — she was coming back for him later, and that’s all there is to it.

So, when Laurie proposed to Amy — because she was the next-closest thing to Jo — Amy should have had the decency to know that Laurie was Jo’s one true love.

Instead, Amy was a total bitch, so she married him.

Conclusion

After all that, here’s the truth: now that I’m an adult, Amy is my favorite. Beth does nothing, gets scarlet fever, then dies. [Also, please don’t stone me, but did anyone else think Beth wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck?] Meg does nothing, twists her ankle, then gets married. Jo ruins her chance at true love, and acts so obtuse about how to behave in human society that I think she’s just doing it to get on her sisters’ nerves. She’s like that one girl in college who tried to be unconventional just for the sake of it, and you were always like “you know what? You’re not Amelie. Stop trying to be Amelie.”

Whether or not you think Amy is a huge freaking bitch (and don’t get me wrong, she is), that girl knew how to go after what she wanted. Somehow, she was ridiculously well-liked, but at the same time, you sure as hell didn’t walk all over Amy March. But, if I ever ended up with an Amy March of my own, I would need to make like Marmee and send her to live with a great-aunt for her teenage years – because honestly, what a little bitch.