Hitty is a doll of great charm and character. It is indeed a privilege to publish her memoirs, which, besides being full of the most thrilling adventures on land and sea, also reveal her delightful personality. One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable as she was really named, was made in the early 1800s for Phoebe Preble, a little girl from Maine. Young Phoebe was very proud of her beautiful doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler. This is the story of Hitty's years with Phoebe, and the many that follow in the life of a well-loved doll.
Original publication date
I was surprised at how readable I found this book. Though Hitty's adventures are episodic, I found that the plot carried me right along, always wondering where Hitty would end up next and how she would get out of whatever scrape she found herself in. I think that, if I had read this as a child, I would have enjoyed it immensely. After all, who doesn't imagine that their toys and dolls secretly come to life when nobody is watching? However, due to several problematic depictions in the book ("red injuns," "heathen savages," and African-American families speaking in an unflattering dialect, among other things), I probably wouldn't recommend this to children today, at least, not unless they were reading it with a good deal of adult guidance.
Well-written and immensely engaging, this is a book I would like to be able to recommend wholeheartedly. There is much of value here: the many period details, which Field always seems to get just right; the snap-shot view of American history, as seen from a unique perspective; and an utterly enchanting heroine, who manages to be believable, both as doll and as narrator. Unfortunately, there are also some dated elements, particularly in the depiction of non-European peoples: the "frightening" Indians of Maine, the "heathen" South Sea Islanders, the "dirty" Indian snake-charmer, the "happy" African-American plantation workers. What's interesting, in all of this - something raised in The Newbery Book-Club to which I belong, is the fact that Hitty herself often takes a more liberal, tolerant view of these different human groups, as compared to her various European or Euro-American owners.
I think there's definitely something to this idea (hence the fact that this got knocked down from four to three stars, rather than from four to two), but even Hitty's perspective sometimes still felt a little condescending to me. Still, given the unique quality of the narrative, I can certainly understand why long-time fans of the book were outraged at the recent Rosemary Wells rewrite. I think that, in the end, the good qualities of this title are sufficient to retain it as a reading selection for young people, with the caveat that responsible adults should be sure to engage them in a discussion of some of the socially anachronistic content.
Hitty the doll was about a hundred years old; this story, published in 1929, is getting close. Some things have held up fairly well; the story of a small, hand-carved doll, going from beloved companion to heathen idol to fashion model and more, is fascinating, and the device - told in first person from the POV of the doll - is probably one of the most unique literary devices ever. The illustrations, too, are charming, and help reinforce the idea that while the doll belongs to various owners, generally children, she herself is an adult, with a deliberately pleasant expression.
Other details, like Hitty's ash-wood complexion, became a little rougher with the passing of time. The author did not know about political correctness in 1929; some of the stories, like that of being carried on a whaling vessel, are fascinating, yet at the same time horrifying to those of us who understand whales to be sentient beings. The depiction of people of color - in India, and America isn't - QUITE - racist, but borders on it; the depiction of "heathens" as bowing down and worshiping the doll because she had jointed limbs is ridiculous.
I wouldn't hand this book to a child today without reading it along with her/him and explaining some of these issues. But there is a tremendous amount of entertainment here; it certainly stokes the imagination, wondering where the doll will wind up next. The revelations about human nature - some of the doll's owners prized her, for various reasons, otherwise were more lackadaisical, even abusive, are still applicable today. The descriptions of Maine and its foliage are also beautiful. And the doll's voice - a somewhat prim, stiff (well, she IS wooden) older lady - is wonderful.
Personal Reaction: This book is filled with a lot of adventure and excitement. I liked there being so many places visited by Hitty and how she got from one place to another. I know my children have had certain dolls or toys that they still have, and my children have many good memories with them, so I can kind of relate to this.
Classroom Extension Ideas: Let the students bring something they have that is special to them, which it can be a doll or some other memento,to class and talk about it.
We can make paper dolls or if they have something special they would like to draw or make, we will to this in class.
And apart from a couple of major caveats, it's not bad. But the book was written in 1929. Sensibilities and what was considered acceptable were much different then. The modern reader will likely find it somewhat offensive that South Seas island natives are referred to as savages and heathens, and will find it highly offensive, as I did, on the mercifully few pages where Southern black characters speak in dialect. Extreme dialect. Anyone who wasn't white and Christian was viewed as inherently inferior. (Though interestingly, Hitty herself seem to take a slightly more liberal view than the humans of her era do.) These were things that few if any readers in 1929 would have been bothered by, but any modern reader will.
That said... The doll is hand crafted sometime in the chronological vicinity of 1825. The story begins in present day (that being 1929) and the doll is on the shelves of an antique dealer. She decides to pick up a quill and write her memoirs. Fortunately for us, she has quite a remarkable memory. We are regaled with her highly adventurous life story, through a number of owners, both children and adults. The writing style is reminiscent of Daniel Defoe's in Robinson Crusoe. It was sort of a "Red Violin" type story.
Hitty, short for Mehitable, is a small doll carved out of mountain ash wood. Her face, hair and shoes are painted on, and she wears a chemise with her name embroidered on it. Her arms and legs don't bend, but he can be made to sit and put her arms up. She is a plain doll, but being carved during the early 1800s she is adequate.
At the time of this book, Hitty is figured to be a little over 100 years old. She feels it is time to write down all that she had been through. Created in Maine for a young girl, Phoebe Preble, who carries the doll where ever she goes. Going on a trip on a whaling ship and winding up stranded on a tropical island inhabited by natives. Being lost in India and becoming the doll of missionary's daughter. Time spent as a secret possession of the daughter of a Mississippi paddle wheel captain.
She experiences a wide range of adventures over the 100 years, and this book is the compilation of them.
Written in 1929, the book was given the Newbery award for 1930. Written in a proper and slightly stilted style, it adds to the feeling of someone writing from another era. At times it is a bit slow, but it is an easy read. Not simple but easy. I think I enjoyed it more as a child but still found it charming this time around.
read! The book is a product of its time and would shock a lot of people since it is very politically incorrect at times.
I enjoyed reading this book. I would have enjoyed reading this book as a 5th or 6th grade student. It might have helped me to like reading more. Do to the way the author described what was happening in the story; with each adventure, I could see it in my mind’s eye. I did not want to put the book down; I wanted read what was next in Hitty’s many adventures.
Have the students write or tell of an adventure they and one of their toys had together.
Have the students pass a toy to around to different family members for a month, have family write what they did with the toy, and then have students write or tell about the adventure the toy went on.
This is the story of the first hundred years of Hitty's life. And that's only the beginning for a doll as special as Hitty.