Her Story: Ladies In Literature 2020 with Elizabeth Wein

Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!

About Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein was born in New York and grew up abroad, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She is an avid flier of small planes, and holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Elizabeth is the author of Rose Under Fire, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award, and Code Name Verity, winner of the Edgar Award in the Young Adult category and a Printz Medal Honor Book.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

Whenever I visit a school and talk to young readers, someone always asks me, ‘What’s your favourite book?’ And I’m so incapable of telling a lie about this, or even improvising a little bit to accommodate the audience, that I always give the same answer: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

My grandmother gave me this book for Christmas when I was 7 – and after reading it more than once, I typed up my first book review in the same year. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read A Little Princess. When I was eleven, I decided to set out on a marathon read, and read it twenty times in a row. I’ve read it again this year. I own four copies, not counting the one I gave my daughter or the shorter, earlier version I also own, Sara Crewe, named after the book’s heroine. I used to pretend my middle name was Sara.

I named my daughter Sara.

A Little Princess was originally published in 1905 (the shorter version was first serialized in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1887), and the title’s kind of cheesy, and I always feel a little embarrassed telling young readers today that this was – and remains – my favourite book. I have heard it many times described as a ‘rags to riches’ story, which is just plain bland simplification. It’s Sara herself who appeals to me. I never get tired of Sara’s unflinching, proud, angry, generous, creative character. She observes: ‘There’s nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in – that’s stronger.’ Sara pretends she is a princess ‘so I can try to behave like one’ – all my life I have tried to behave like Sara (with only moderate success).

Hodgson doesn’t pull any punches in her harsh treatment of this indomitable character. When Sara loses her fortune, and her beloved father, she essentially becomes a bound servant, treated as a slave for two years by the villainous Miss Minchin. Sara is starved, battered, and frozen during her years as a maid of all work, but she never loses her passion for learning, her love for her friends, or her compassion for fellow sufferers. She’s also intelligent and creative, a born storyteller who is adored for her ability to entertain people.

Over the years it’s become clear to me that I’ll never live up to the model set for me by Sara Crewe, so I let my own fictional characters embody her. There’s a little of Sara in every one of my heroes, both male and female. Louisa, the heroine of The Enigma Game, also turns to A Little Princess for comfort when she’s orphaned, just as I did. Sara’s multicultural background is a touchstone for Jamaican-born Louisa, as it was for me.

As Louisa points out, ‘[Sara] still looked English. People didn’t shoo her away because she was brown.’ Prejudice against ethnicity is one thing that Sara doesn’t have to endure. But Hodgson’s searing portrayal of poverty and neglect are social reminders that have stuck with me all my life.

I don’t think I’ll outgrow Sara Crewe. When I began to write this article, I did a quick internet search for A Little Princess and discovered that Hollywood has made no less than three major motion pictures of this book, and in 2012 it was listed as number 56 on School Library Journal’s top 100 all-time best children’s novels. Clearly Sara appeals to other people, too, and I’m delighted to find that I’m not the only one who appreciates this novel for its timeless messages of spirit and determination.

I still want to be like Sara.

Pictured: Elizabeth’s first “review” of A Little Princess

Title The Enigma Game
Author Elizabeth Wein
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Historical Fiction
Publication Date November 3rd 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazonChaptersThe Book DepositoryBarnes & NobleIndieBound

The hair stood up at the back of my neck. Those letters meant something. And with the cipher machine, I’d worked it out myself.

1940. Facing a seemingly endless war, fifteen-year-old Louisa Adair wants to fight back, make a difference, do something-anything to escape the Blitz and the ghosts of her parents, who were killed by enemy action. But when she accepts a position caring for an elderly German woman in the small village of Windyedge, Scotland, it hardly seems like a meaningful contribution. Still, the war feels closer than ever in Windyedge, where Ellen McEwen, a volunteer driver with the Royal Air Force, and Jamie Beaufort-Stuart, a flight leader for the 648 Squadron, are facing a barrage of unbreakable code and enemy attacks they can’t anticipate.

Their paths converge when a German pilot lands in Windyedge under mysterious circumstances and plants a key that leads Louisa to an unparalleled discovery: an Enigma machine that translates German code. Louisa, Ellen, and Jamie must work together to unravel a puzzle that could turn the tide of the war? but doing so will put them directly in the cross-hairs of the enemy.

Featuring beloved characters from Code Name Verity and The Pearl Thief, as well as a remarkable new voice, this brilliant, breathlessly plotted novel by award-winning author Elizabeth Wein is a must-read.

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Jen is a thirty-something Canadian book blogger and bibliophile currently residing in the wilds of suburbia. Aside from a penchant for older men, particularly those with the surnames Firth, Elba and Norton, Jen is also passionately interested in running, Mad Men, and Marilyn Monroe. In addition to being a voracious reader and self-proclaimed television addict, Jen is also an aspiring children and youth services librarian who would like to pursue a MLIS and better help readers find the perfect book for them.