I… I don’t have a problem.
Granted, I was trying to figure out which book to write about here today, which was problematic because there are SO MANY good choices. So I did what I do.
I went to the Children’s Book Shop and said, “I NEED A BOOK.”
The lovely lady there didn’t even stand up. She had a little stack of books beside her. She just looked up and said, “Oh, I was about to call you. These came in.”
I won’t tell you about the second book (I have to read it first), but the first was this:
Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field. A book I read when I was about twelve years old, in love with my porcelain dolls, in particular, and rather lonely when it came to, you know, real live human beings.
Hitty was very comforting. I don’t fear spoiling this story for you: the story is the story of a doll’s life through her first hundred years on this glorious, dangerous, crazy planet. There are other doll stories, and plenty of them: some of them draw on the story of Hitty (think of the Kate DiCamillo’s wonderful story The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane) but others are independent of Hitty (“San Fairy Ann” by Eleanor Farjeon in The Little Bookroom collection is extraordinary in its own right).
But there’s just something about Hitty, isn’t there? I never was one to personify my dolls– although I’ll be honest: Bea was very special to me– and yet I related to Hitty as strongly as to a person. More strongly than to the girls in my class who scared me.
There are many possible answers for many people, I imagine, but what jumps out to me today, revisiting this text, isn’t Hitty’s gentleness (my first thought) or her patience (my second thought), but her strength and perseverance.
Consider pp. 58-9, when the ship she’s on is destroyed and she’s convinced that she, too, will come to an end– first she hopes for rescue:
“Once I was sure I saw Phoebe point back toward the ship. I knew her gesture was meant for me and just for a moment hope stirred in me again. But the boats continued steadily on their way.” (p. 58)
In a children’s book! Remember this isn’t just a doll: Hitty is a her not an it, and she’s the beloved protagonist– on the point of death. And yet…
“‘Only a miracle can save me now,’ I said to myself.
I had heard someone say that once, but it did not seem likely that one would come to my aid. […]
‘Well,’ I remember thinking as I took the plunge, ‘at least I shall not be burned up. Water is kinder to wood than fire and I have heard that salt is a great preservative.'” (p. 59)
A few things to note:
a) Hitty is not able to act because, frankly, she’s a doll. But she’s able to feel. And she feels fear in her situation. That’s real. And scary for the reader, too.
b) Hitty doesn’t back down in her fear. She reacts with humour and strength. Humour is strength, in fact. Her humour is grim. I don’t remember thinking it was very funny when I was about 12, but that’s because it’s not meant to be. It’s humour, nonetheless, and you have to be strong to recognize the quirky, odd, funny sides of your situation.
Hitty’s story isn’t a sweet little story about a cute doll. It’s a story about a girl going through hell and coming out on top. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.
It’s as much a story of endurance as Shackleton’s Journey and as much a story of courage as Truman and over and above all of that, it’s about a girl-who-becomes-a-woman, by a woman, for… well… everyone, I hope, but the presumed audience feels primarily female. (I think young gentlemen would be better off for reading it, too, but that’s a post for another day.)
Having read it as a young woman who was struggling socially to overcome and endure, I think I can say for sure that it was helpful to me, and I hope it will continue to be helpful to others.
Why did I buy it when my daughter is only 6 years old, doing fine socially, and not yet ready for a book I read at age 11 or 12?
I got it for three reasons:
First, I love it and wanted to connect to Hitty again after all of these years.
Second, I want it to be home and ready for the Changeling when she’s going to be a young woman.
Third, I’m going through a transition (from PhD student to job-hunter) as surely as Hitty did. I think I needed Hitty again right now.
And she’s here for me, strong and persevering, as she always has been. And will be for you and your children. I suggest you seek her out.