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to Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls
by Sarah Orne Jewett
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1929 reprint.
Clara Whitehill Hunt
LOVERS of Sarah Orne Jewett's exquisite work may wonder a little to find a book of hers `introduced' by a mere children's librarian. There are two reasons why `Betty Leicester' needs to be brought afresh to the attention of readers. One is that people who are ever so enthusiastic about a writer's best‑known work are likely to ignore his or her lapse into writing a mere `juvenile' story. Another reason is that, in these times, when parents too commonly leave their children without any reading guidance, and writers of children's books cater to the popular demand for speed and sensationalism, a little gem like `Betty Leicester' may be overlooked, because, like its author, it is as modest as it is distinguished.
Fortunately for all of us, older people as well as girl readers, the publishers have bowed to popular fashion and put this lovely story into such attractive dress as will catch the eye of to‑day's girls and so invite more of them to make Betty's acquaintance.
These young readers will find that the charming heroine, who lived not so very far from the `Little Women' and who, like them, never saw an automobile, never went to a `movie,' and never `listened in' at a radio, was just as genuine a girl and had quite as happy and interesting a life as Meg and Jo and as the girls of this very year.
One critic of Miss Jewett's writings who did not ignore the existence of her book for young people said, `There is no more undoubted little lady in children's literature than Betty Leicester.' That is beautifully true, but Betty is as truly a fun‑loving, friendly, natural girl, with no priggishness about her, and with no more seriousness than many a girl of these flippant times hides under a carefully careless exterior.
This story for the younger readers lives up to Miss Jewett's demands upon herself, always to give her best. Here is a perfect little picture of the New England of her own girlhood. Here is the beauty of style, the human sympathy, the deftness of character sketching, the humor, the keen observation and delicate description that mark the distinction of her writing for her critical adult audience. We older people should feel it a privilege as well as an obligation to help make our girls acquainted with Sarah Orne Jewett, and this little story may be the first step leading to many a lifelong friendship with the author.
We have made a great advance in America, so internationally distinguished artists have declared, in our appreciation of good music. This has not come about by mere chance. The taste has been assiduously cultivated by leaders who thought it mattered and who have unceasingly labored to bring the best music to our people, beginning with the young. I sometimes wonder if we are as alert to the fact that in literature as in music a taste for the finest comes only by association with the best, not by living with the commonplace. When a larger number of those directly concerned with the training of children realize the truth of this, more books like `Betty Leicester' will be found in children's libraries and the number of mediocrities and atrocities on those shelves will steadily diminish.
CLARA WHITEHILL HUNT
Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College
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