Old Favorites: Jennie Lindquist March 6, 2016Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
I was an avid reader of so-called ‘old-fashioned books’ when I was a kid—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess were all familiar friends. My top favorites however, were a trilogy about a group of children in rural New Hampshire. These three books—The Golden Name Day, The Little Silver House and The Crystal Tree—are all out of print now, which is a shame, because they are delightful and would probably appeal to many young readers today.
Written by Jennie D. Lindquist, who edited The Horn Book Magazine from 1951 to 1958, these are old-fashioned family stories, warm and cheerful, with almost no mention of world events or historical figures. I believe I read somewhere that Lindquist based the stories on her own grandparents, who were from Sweden, though I’m unable to find the source for that information. The first title (which won a Newbery Honor in 1956) begins with the protagonist Nancy arriving in a small village to stay with family friends who she calls Grandma and Grandpa. At first lonely and upset to be so far away from her parents, she slowly grows to love the country and the many Swedish customs practiced by her foster family. The second book follows Nancy and her friends as they discover an abandoned house in the village and their attempts to find out about the family who once owned it. The third title deals with the changes and preparations to be made as Nancy and her parents rent the house and begin a new life there, surrounded by friends and family.
Like the All-of-a-Kind-Family series, which takes place at roughly the same time (the early 20th century), but in a very different setting, these books feature a close-knit family who celebrate the year’s holidays together, as well as smaller events such as having visitors or taking a weekend trip to the farm. The quiet activities of baking cookies, papering a room and planting flowers suited the cautious child reader that I was, reluctant to try new things. As a city kid, I loved to imagine riding in a wagon out to the farm, picking mayflowers in a wood, and decorating a schoolroom with hundreds of daisies.
The story elements that stuck with me the most though, were the many Swedish traditions scattered throughout each book, from the keeping of name days, with a special cake and flower crowns, to making karamuller treats during the holidays and dancing the Long Dance of Christmas Eve around the Christmas tree. I’ve thought quite a bit about why these stories, as opposed to the many better known classics that I read in elementary school, are the books I have returned to again and again. I think it must be that the characters identify so strongly as immigrants and a proud immigrant narrative was lacking in most of the literature I was exposed to as a kid. I come from a family who told and retold our stories of coming to the United States, from Mexico (on my mom’s side) and France (on my dad’s). But we didn’t have any family close by and with the exception of piñatas on birthdays and tamales on special occasions, we celebrated few culture-specific traditions. Although I have no personal connection to Sweden, this series of books taught me to be proud of the places my ancestors came from, to hold onto the stories I was told and to pass them on.