Friday, June 26, 2009

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years

Finished Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. It won the Newbery Medal in 1930. About a decade ago, when I used to read chapter books out loud to my daughter we started Hitty. We got about twenty pages in and were so bored we started calling it "Hitty: Her First Million Years." Needless to say we gave up and read something else. Because of that experience I was concerned when Hitty came up next in my chronological reading of the Newbery medalists. At times like this I hear the voice of Miss Baker, one of my middle school English teachers, saying "Always give a book at least 32 pages before you give up on it." Reading Hitty this time I was engrossed long before page 32.

Hitty is a doll, carved from strong Mountain Ash. She was made by a peddler for Phoebe Prebles, a little girl living in Maine in the 19th Century. Hitty's adventures begin almost immediately. She is picked up by a crow and brought back to a nest where she is pecked and crowded by young crows. She falls from the nest and is rescued by the Prebles. Phoebe's father is the Captain of a Whaler. He takes his family along on a voyage to the South Seas. They are shipwrecked on a small island. The people of the island are fascinated by Hitty and place her in a shrine where she is anointed and worshiped. Someone steals Hitty back and the family is rescued and taken to India. Phoebe is so tired. She is carried to lodgings and loses her grip on Hitty. Hitty falls into the gutter. She is later discovered there by a snake charmer. Hitty travels in a basket with a cobra from one end of India to the other. Adventures such as this go on and on.

There are times when Hitty is lost to the world in attics, barns, down beneath sofa cushions. She is always rediscovered, rehabilitated, and brought back in a different role, sometimes simply as a plaything, other times as a museum piece. She remarks on the changes that she sees over the years, new inventions, innovations, changes in styles and manners. She at one point is given a little desk, quill pen and ink and so begins to write, these, her memoirs.

This book was exciting and fantastical. An interesting historical ride. There are moments where one cringes over ethnic and racial stereotypes, but taken within the context of when they were happening, they are sadly the tone of the times. Hitty herself is a bit of a snob.

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