This is Louisa May Alcott
's sequel to her famous novel Little Women
. In the final chapter of Little Women
, we know that Jo got a house named Plumfield from her Aunt March, got married to Prof. Bhaer, then they established a school at Plumfield for boys, rich ones as well as poor ones, for Jo loved little boys. Jo's love for boys stems from her early endeavors to make a good man out of Laurie, formerly her playfriend, now the husband of her sister Amy and a great benefactor to the school, owing both to his money and his personal help. After several years, the school is now prospering, and this novel is a snapshot of the school life then, with a duration of about half a year.
Despite the name, and despite Jo's fondness of boys, the school is not all boys, for she and her husband believe in coeducation, "bringing little men and women together" as Jo says. At first, there are 12 boys and only one girl, 10-year-old Daisy, who is the elder daughter of Mrs. Meg, and whose twin brother Demi is also in the school. The story begins as a newcomer Nat, a 13-year-old street boy with a talent in playing violin, comes and adapts himself to the school atmosphere. Later, Nat brings his street friend, "firebrand" Dan, Mrs. Jo brings another girl nicknamed "Naughty Nan" to complement domestic and prim Daisy, and once Amy's 4-year-old daughter Bess (called Goldilocks for her pretty blond hair) also paid a visit, so the school community, or more accurately called the "family", keeps enlarging.
Plumfield proves to be a pleasant place for the children, and they live happily together for the most part. However, the story isn't goody-goody either; the children are as naughty as any others, keep getting into trouble, or "scrapes" as Jo likes to call them, and occasionally they may even mistrust and fight each other --- in short, most kinds of trouble happened during your primary-school times happen in Plumfield too. Most of the troubles get solved by Jo and Mr. Bhaer's love, care, and their rather innovative ways of teaching, but in a few cases things do not go the way they liked either --- the school master and mistress have their share of failures and setbacks, just like every other teacher.
Now I think it is time to introduce some of the main characters in the story. However, it will contain spoilers, so beware.
Among the boys, Nat and Dan, the two newcomers, are paid special attention by the author. Nat is a shy, kind-hearted boy who readily appreciates his new life in Plumfield, for everyone treats him kindly for the most part, and he also gets a chance to cultivate his talents in "fiddling". His main weakness is a tendency to tell lies, which is much corrected with Mr. Bhaer's innovative punishment; indeed, honesty becomes one of his highlights in the sequel, Jo's Boys. Nevertheless, this weakness lands him in trouble even after he has corrected it, for he is suspected by many to be the culprit when once Tommy's money gets stolen, even though actually he is not. The truth eventually comes up, but before then he is downright miserable, with only Dan and Daisy believing in his honesty. Anyway, Daisy is fond of him and his music, and especially after this incident there grows much affection between them, which ultimately results in their marriage at the end of Jo's Boys.
Dan, the boy brought to Plumfield by Nat as a friend in the streets, is very different. Although he has a kind and upright heart inside, having had a rough childhood in the streets with an utter lack of discipline, he has a hard time getting used to even Plumfield, where discipline is significantly more lenient than in other schools. During his first days in Plumfield, he picks up fights with other boys, abuses animals for fun, and teaches other boys to swear and smoke, which results in a fire and causes Mr. Bhaer to send him away to one of his farmer friends. He runs away shortly after, as can be expected, but time in the wild world is hard even for him, and after getting injured he returned to Plumfield with much difficulty. The love and care by Mrs. Jo, as well as the boys' interest in natural things which he knows much of, win him over gradually, and the wild colt finally agrees to be tamed.
Mrs. Meg's twins, Daisy and Demi, are also important ones in the story. Daisy is a housewifely little creature just like her mother. Being the only girl in Plumfield before Nan arrives, it is no surprise that she becomes an especially important member of the school, both for the boys who "pet and tyrannize over her by turns", and for Mrs. Jo who sometimes finds her in need of more care than the boys added together. Anyway, her womanly interests are also honored by Jo, who teaches her cooking, and in time even allows her to organize a ball for the boys. Demi is pretty much a model child owing to his parents' "intelligent love and care", but not an angel either, rather a very interesting child who indulges in books and has a rather fanciful mind, sometimes so fanciful it leads to trouble too. The brotherly love between the twins is remarkable --- I find it the sweetest part of the novel.
Nan is a tomboyish girl brought to Plumfield in the latter part of the novel. She is a very clever child, has much courage, and refuses to admit that she is weaker than boys. Her willful ways generates much oohs and aahs among the boys, but also lands her in trouble, once even got Jo's little Rob lost in the woods. However, with the influence of Daisy and later their visitor "Goldilocks", she gradually makes herself more neat and careful, while keeping the good parts of her independent character, and livening up the other two girls in return.
There are quite a few other children that I have not mentioned above, such as responsible Franz, wanna-be sailor Emil, Jo's own boys little Rob and Teddy, careless Tommy, Stuffy who likes food ridiculously, good-natured Dick with a crooked back, Billy who has a defunct brain, lisping Dolly, sly Jack, and faulty Ned.
Overall, I think this book is not as sentimental or "deep" as Little Women or Jo's Boys, but it is a fun and wholesome read, especially for small children and adults having (or about to have) small children. For those having stressed their brain to the limits by pondering over something abstract like category theory, this book is a good stress-reliever too; at least it works for me. If you like this one, also take a look at its sequel Jo's Boys, which tells you how the children will turn out when they grow up, and in my opinion is even better than this novel.
This book is available in Project Gutenberg, #2788.