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The Storybarn Selects… From The Reader Bookshelf

Written by Lily Kehoe, 5th January 2024

We're continuing to delve into the Children and Young People's Reader Bookshelf with a review of Frances Hodgson Burnett's  The Little Princess from Business and Content Manager, Jamie.

‘Sara took out three more buns and put them down. The sound in the hoarse, ravenous voice was awful. ‘She is hungrier than I am,’ she said to herself. ‘She’s starving.’ But her hand trembled when she put down the fourth bun. ‘I’m not starving,’ she said – and she put down the fifth.’

Sara Crewe is the daughter of a wealthy captain. Whilst at a prestigious boarding school in London, Sara’s father is killed in battle and she is left all alone in the world, her fortune and prospects diminished. The headmistress at the school decides to keep Sara on as a servant, to pay off the debts of her expensive school fees, and Sara goes from being considered a princess by the other students, to being ridiculed and mistreated as a pauper.

The quote above comes from a section in the book when Sara is out running errands and finds a silver coin on the ground. It is winter and Sara is cold and hungry, with only her keen imagination to keep her from utter misery. Sara decides to pick up the coin and buy some warm buns from a baker shop across the road. She is so excited by the prospect of eating the warm and delicious buns, and watches on with anticipation as the baker packs up the buns into a paper bag. Outside the baker’s, Sara noticed a beggar child sitting outside, freezing and utterly famished. Sara thinks a moment, before giving the buns to the child, who looks just slightly younger than herself. She keeps none for herself, and the baker from inside the shop looks on in confusion: ‘Well I never!’ she exclaimed. ‘If that young ‘un hasn’t given her buns to a beggar child! It wasn’t because she didn’t want them, either. Well, well. She looked hungry enough. I’d give something to know what she did it for.’

This is a remarkable moment of the book for me, and one that has stayed with me since I first read the book as a child myself. Sara, is not only able to empathise with another child’s suffering, but also recognises that suffering as worse than her own. Sara’s selfless act exemplifies the strength that exists in humanity, even when we ourselves feel helpless and alone, we have the capacity to give to others and support them. It is truly a beautiful moment that reveals how kindness and love can permeate even through the darkest of times.

This is a book that can thoroughly be enjoyed by adults and children; Sara’s emotional resilience and ability to bring joy to others is truly captivating and feels sincere and real. I’m so glad I was able to read this book when I was younger, and returning to it now almost twenty years later has been an absolute pleasure (and an emotional rollercoaster!) I would really encourage anyone and everyone to give this beautiful book a read.

‘It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.’

The Little Princess is available to buy at The Reader Bookshop online.

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