I just can’t seem to get away from our runs to the U District. But this is really pretty tangential. Once I get into really high whine mode, we slow down and smell the roses, so to speak. In other words, we stop and look around in our favorite book stores. The first one we come to is Magus Books, which always has a bargain book rack on the sidewalk in front. We usually check over the current selection, and for the most part snobbily sneer at the offerings. But every once in a while, there are some gems. One day, I found several of these delights, priced at a dollar each! But sadly, the store policy is nothing less that $4 on a debit card. And I had no cash. I was about to unhappily put my choices back, when the man said I could take them and pay next time. Now this is excellent service. And parenthetically, I actually did pay them the next time. One of the books I found was “Hitty, Her First Hundred Years.” I had never heard of it, but it was by Rachael Field, one of my lifelong favorites - and on the cover, a gold Newberry seal! How had I missed this? Admittedly, I am not drawn to books about dolls, but I read Newberrys whenever one comes my way, and I have read Rachael Field since, when I was in grammar school, my mother brought me one (Time out of Mind) that she had enjoyed at my age. I remember nothing about the story, but do recall sitting under a tree at a church picnic, unable to put it down, and being harassed to join the volley ball game. (Ugh! Volleyball is a terrifying sport with that giant missile hurtling toward you, seeking to fracture your fingers or wrist, and then there is the verbal abuse you receive if you do the clever thing and duck.)
Anyway, this little book was a surprise and a delight! I have recommended it to everyone I ever recommend books to, but the story of a doll elicits minimal interest. In fact, no interest at all. Sigh! Poor them! This was the best new-to-me book I have read in a long time.
The heroine, Hitty, was carved from a piece of mountain ash by a tinker visiting a Maine sea captain’s family in the winter of 1820 or thereabouts. The family was snowed in, so the tinker had to winter with them, and made the little doll for eight year old Phoebe Prebble, from a special piece of wood he had been carrying for years, telling her that the wood was good luck, as mountain ash was a sacred tree and one which wards off evil spirits. Phoebe sewed Hitty a chemise with her name stitched on it, and thus through her century of adventures, Hitty’s owners were able to call her by her proper name. Speaking of “proper,” Hitty is very. She is a doll of a delightful personality, much concerned about propriety and her image. She maintains her modesty and decorum throughout her world travels which include being lost at sea when her family’s whaling ship met disaster, becoming an idol among the cannibals on the island where she washed up, being part of a snake charmer’s paraphernalia in India, finally returning to America with a missionary’s family, traveling the Mississippi in a steamboat and much more. She always maintained her dignity, and always has perceptive and pungent comments of the doings of the humans around her.
If you enjoy reading excellent children’s books and you are not anti-doll, this book is a real winner. And added bonus -- charming illustrations!