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What would you do if your father died half a world away and left you an impoverished orphan stranded in a boarding school with a Dolores Umbridge-wannabe headmistress and a bunch of classmates who would probably be rejected by Slytherin?
Scream? Cry? Beg social services to take you away?
Not Sara Crewe. Sara gives new meaning to the phrase "stiff upper lip." Whatever life throws at her—and it's a lot—she uses her innate compassion and power of imagination to triumph. (It also helps that she's fluent in Hindustani and French.)
Did we mention that she's only nine when the story begins?
Frances Hodgson Burnett first published a novella called Sara Crewe: Or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's in 1887 and 1888. Later adapted into a stage play, the story reached its final form as A Little Princess in 1905.
But it's not about an actual princess. In fact, it tells the story of a young girl on a fast, downward slope. After she learns that her father has died and left her penniless, her life gets bad—fast. The story is set around the turn of the century in England, so there's no foster care or Child Protective Services to look out for her. She ends up as a mistreated servant at the boarding school where she used to be a wealthy pupil.
Major bummer, right? But not for long: A Little Princess is a story of survival and hope. Even when she's literally starving and freezing, Sara uses her imagination and her perseverance to survive—with the grace of a real-life princess. And in the end, she gets a true fairy tale ending that, like other princesses-in-disguise, she earned through her compassion and innate kindness.
Trust us: it's a satisfying ending.
Yeah, we're a little tired of hearing that every girl is a princess, too. Come on! Some girls can be astrophysicists, and some girls can be homemakers. (Maybe someday a girl can even be president, eh?)
But it had to start somewhere, and Burnett's A Little Princess is a pretty good bet for origin story. Sara Crewe is an ordinary girl with an extraordinary gift for storytelling. Through her imagination, she teaches herself and her friends that you don't have to be royal to be a princess; you just have to be kind, and brave, and true.
Her stories of heroes in the Bastille, of faraway lands, and of underwater princesses inspire her to be a better person: and that's the kind of princess we can get behind. No princess wedding dresses necessary.
Sweet! Free Book!
A Little Princess is out of copyright: check out the whole text!
A Little Tear in Our Eye
It's been almost a decade, but this 1995 film version of the book still makes us tear up. What can we say? We're saps.
A Mini-Series Princess
One year after the movie version, a TV miniseries came out (1996). This book sure was popular in the 90s.
What Did Happen at Miss Minchin's?
Find out here, in the original version of the story.
Read Before You Die
It's safe to say that this reviewer liked the book.
Watch Before You Die
And Roger Ebert sure liked the movie version.
Get Out Those Tissues!
Ready to weep? Check out the trailer for A Little Princess here.
No People, Please
You can also take a gander at the animated version.
Before Harry Potter, There Was Sara Crewe
Film director Alfonso Cuaron talks about his 1995 film.
Interested in listening to A Little Princess? Great! Download it for free at Librivox.
A Real Doll
Is this what you thought Emily would look like?
Get Out Your Burn Book
Sara's sporting some fancy threads in the film version of A Little Princess. No wonder all the other girls are so jealous!
This is the book cover we grew up with.
Not Too Shabby
Frances Hodgson Burnett looks like she's doing pretty well for herself in this picture.
Everything's Better As Anime
Including A Little Princess