04/04/2013

Nine Little Goslings (by Susan Coolidge)

Susan Coolidge is best known for her 'Katy' trilogy which begins with the classic 'What Katy Did'. While I've been familiar with these books for many years, it's only relatively recently that I learned of several other books which she wrote. Since they are long out of copyright - she lived in the 19th century - they are all available free for download from Project Gutenberg.

‘Nine Little Goslings’, which I just finished reading, is a book containing nine short stories, intended for children of about seven to ten, I suppose, since that’s the age of the featured children. The first one particularly interested me, being about Johnnie (Joanna) Carr, from the Katy series. Johnnie has been quite a tomboy until she is ill for a while, and then finds herself dreaming about being a princess, or perhaps being adopted by a long-lost relative. For once dreams appear to be coming true when her unknown godmother arrives and takes a great interest in her, offering to bring her up as her own. Her wise father suggests a temporary arrangement, and after a few weeks, Johnnie is very thankful for this!

I had thought the whole book might be about the Carrs, but each of the nine stories stands alone, featuring different children. The titles of the chapters are taken from nursery rhymes - so the first is called ‘Curly Locks’. The second, ‘Goosey Goosey Gander’, is about a small boy who really doesn’t want to go to bed. He is generally obedient, but finds himself unable to sleep.. and then spots a ladder that leads to the roof. He has some quite surprising adventures before returning home.. and then, at the end, it’s implied that they might have been a dream.

Each story was a good length for me to read while eating breakfast, as I often do with Kindle books, so it took me a little over a week to finish this. I found some of the later stories a bit depressing, but they were probably typical of the era, when children did not all survive childhood, and medical care was rather basic. Some of them have fairly overt morals - such as the first, encouraging children to be content with what they have - while others are more fanciful, just for entertainment.

I’m not sure what kind of child these stories would appeal to in the 21st century; they’re certainly not easy-reads, and the long-winded style might make them seem boring to children who prefer fast-paced modern adventures. They would probably appeal to more thoughtful and eclectic readers - those who are as happy to read ‘Little House on the Prairie’ as ‘Harry Potter’ - or could possibly be read aloud to children of around seven to nine who still like bedtime stories.

I don't know that I would particularly recommend this, but it made a nice change from other books, and was an interesting insight into the world of the late 19th century in which the author lived.

Note that the Amazon links given are to printed editions of this, which are fairly expensive for what they are; they also have Kindle versions

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