Monday, May 5, 2008

Elsie Dinsmore

Tomes for Tots
This week we went to a play date organized by our local home educators association. As I was pulling out packages of goldfish and juice boxes for snack time, another mother caught sight of the book that I had brought along in the vain hope of reading while my children were happily playing independently on the playground equipment.

"Oh, you're reading Elsie Dinsmore!" she said. "Aren't those books wonderful?"

"Oh, yes," I agreed. In fact, this was a book that I would stay up late that night to finish and pull out whenever I could the next day to revisit passages.

Elsie is a girl who is currently living with her grandfather and step-grandmother. Her mother died shortly after Elsie is born, and Elsie has never met her father, who at the encouragement of his father (the grandfather with which Elsie is now living) had left for Europe and has never seen Elsie. Because Mr. Dinsmore, Sr. never approved of his son's union with Elsie's mother, Elsie is slighted within the home, particularly by Mrs. Dinsmore and Arthur, her son.

It is how Elsie deals with the many slights and disappointments that is intriguing in this book. Having been brought up by her religious nanny Chloe, she has a staunch faith that is surprising in a child so young. Indeed, in parts, Elsie's conviction and repentance seem almost too good to be true, but she is a model for those of us struggling to live out the Christian life. The way that Scripture is applied to real-life incidents and hopes and disappointments is a true lesson.

One of the main struggles in Elsie's life is dealing with her dashed hopes of being warmly accepted by her father upon his return from Europe. Poisoned by his father's prejudices, he is cold toward his daughter who desperately and pitifully yearns for his affection. Even after there is a rewarding reconciliation between the two, the fact that her father is not saved dims Elsie's pleasure in the father-daughter relationship.

The English teacher struggles within me as I feel the need to note that this book is not great literature. Its message is too didactic, and the characters tend to be melodramatic in the goodness of Elsie and the villainy of Miss Day, the governess, and, at times, Arthur and Elsie's father. This melodrama and didacticism can be accounted for, but not excused, by the Victorian era in which it was first written by Martha Finley.

Still, it is an entertaining read, and its message of relying on God's Word is important. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series. Life of Faith has updated the Elsie books and has created additional series based on other characters and has created dolls to match a la American Girl (The book that I am reviewing is the original text, not the updated version). If, in this age of Bratz dolls, you are looking for a Christian role model for your daughter, step into Elsie's life.

Happy Reading!

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