Little Saint Elizabeth and other stories (by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

In browsing through free classics for my Kindle, I always like spotting works by authors I've previously enjoyed. So I was very pleased to discover three or four volumes by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a children's writer who died nearly 90 years ago. She is best known for her classic 'The Secret Garden'.

'Little Saint Elizabeth and Other Stories' is a short book of short stories for children which I read on my Kindle while on an aeroplane. The first story features the rather-too-good-to-be-true Elizabeth, which felt a bit like deja vu in my rather tired mind, having just finished reading 'Elsie Dinsmore'. Elizabeth, however, is not in fact much like Elsie. She has less of a sense of humour, but rather more forthright courage. And she does not keep bursting into tears.

Elizabeth was brought up by a rigidly religious aunt in France and then, on the aunt's sudden death, she was transferred to the luxurious home of her uncle in the USA. Elizabeth has no idea how to play with other children, and feels that her uncle is much too worldly. She will inherit a great deal of money one day, and tries to persuade her uncle to let her have some; she is determined, in a naively child-like way, to help the poor of her neighbourhood as well as of the village where she lived in France. In attempting to take matters into her own hand, she runs into danger.

The other three stories in the book are more like fairytales: one is about a prince whose feet are too small, who meets some fairies; the third is about a proud grain of wheat who (so to speak) eventually meets his just desserts, and the final story is slightly surreal, about a girl who imagines exploring the chimney.

Lightly amusing, well-written and all very different from each other, these were fine to pass the time on an aeroplane. Recommended for children who enjoy classic style stories, or to read aloud to younger children who enjoy this kind of thing - although, perhaps, the first story about 'Saint Elizabeth' would not be so appealing.

Amazon links given are to paperback editions of this book, but it can also be downloaded free in various e-book formats at Project Gutenberg.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th April 2011

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