I don’t know about you, but for the six weeks or so, I’ve been craving comfort foods and comfort reads. Instead of trying new, adventurous, nutritious recipes, I’ve been digging out old recipe cards and calling family members to see if they remember that one thing Grandma made when we were kids. Similarly, I haven’t had the mental space to crack open dark, angsty, or overly technical reads that I might normally be up for. There’s enough to worry about in the real world, so instead my reading time, especially at the end of the day, is focused on charming classics that I’ve loved for years.
As I’m guessing is the case for many of you, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is the first book of that sort that comes to mind for me. So if you love Anne and you’d like something similar, this post and the follow-up next Friday are for you! Next week I’ll share well-known books you really ought to read if you haven’t already, but this week is a deeper dive into lesser-known Anne Shirley-esque reads. Some of the author names will likely be familiar, but these particular books fly under the radar when compared with the popularity of the Green Gables series. Nevertheless, they all feature smart, lovable heroines finding their way through girlhood and teenage life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Just like the treats I’ve been making from old family recipes, these books are sweet, familiar, and mood-lifting, just what we need in the middle of a global pandemic.
AN OLD-FASHIONED GIRL
By Louisa May Alcott
This is my go-to read when I need a pick-me-up. LITTLE WOMEN might officially be my favorite book, but I think I read An Old-Fashioned Girl more often, especially since it’s short enough to finish in an evening or two. This sweet story of a country girl visiting her glamorous city friends might be a little heavy-handed in its moralizing, but isn’t that part of its charm? Best of all, its main character, Polly, combines some of the best characteristics of the four March sisters. She’s kind and hardworking and tries hard to be good, but she has enough weaknesses and quirks to make her lovable. And then there’s Tom, a mischievous, good-hearted, boyish boy who’s sure to win your heart.
DADDY LONG LEGS
By Jean Webster
Though I didn’t grow up reading this book, the Hale Center Theater’s delightful two-person musical production last year left me charmed and deeply contented in a way only my favorite childhood reads can. I read the book a short while later and discovered that my favorite aspects of the play – Jerusha’s personality and the clever dialogue – came directly from the book. But just ignore the existence of the Fred Astaire/Leslie Caron movie musical from the fifties – there’s no horrifyingly large age gap to worry about here.At the beginning of the story, Jerusha Abbot, the oldest orphan in the John Greer Home, has few prospects in life. Fortunately, an anonymous benefactor, whom Jerusha dubs “Daddy Long Legs,” decides to fund her further education. Jerusha heads off to a women’s college, where she writes Daddy Long Legs regular letters about her experiences. Witty, observant, and romantic, Jerusha’s a character loveable enough to rival Anne Shirley. And if you like Daddy Long Legs, be sure to read DEAR ENEMY too, just be prepared for a few casually positive references to eugenics that are jarring to read today.
THE BLUE CASTLE
By L.M. Montgomery
Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote several other books and series beyond Anne of Green Gables, and this is my favorite of them. In The Blue Castle, Valancy Stirling has grown up in a rigidly strict home with domineering and often cruel family members. She’s always been quiet and submissive, willing to go along with her family’s claim that she’s unattractive and destined for mediocrity. When she receives a letter making her feel like time’s running out, Valancy throws caution to the wind and goes after exactly what – and who – she wants in her life.
HEAVEN TO BETSY
By Maud Hart Lovelace
Even if you don’t recognize the title of the Betsy-Tacy series, you’ve heard of it before if you’ve ever watched you’ve got mail. Based on the author’s girlhood, this series follows Betsy Ray and her best friend Tacy from the age of five all the way through early adulthood. Feel free to read them all in order, but know that the early books are aimed at younger readers. If you’re wanting the Anne of Green Gables vibe, I’d recommend starting with Heaven to Betsy, which takes place during Betsy’s freshman year of high school in the early 1900s. Betsy and her friends feel so much like a person you could actually know, and it’s especially fun to see how much of what we still associate with middle class American teenage life started more than a century ago.
A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST
By Gene Stratton-Porter
Part of the joy of L.M. Montgomery’s books is her vivid descriptions of the beautiful, natural world, and that’s one of the most appealing aspects of The Girl of the Limberlost too. Gene Stratton-Porter was a naturalist as well as a novelist, which becomes abundantly clear in this book and its companion novels, FRECKLES and LADDIE. Protagonist Elnora Comstock has grown up poor and neglected by her widowed mother, who was emotionally destroyed when her husband died the day Elnora was born. Elnora begins high school uncomfortable and awkward, but through her own good nature, friendliness, and hard work selling the insect and plant specimens she collects from the Limberlost Swamp, she finds a place for herself in her community and in her family.
By Julie Andrews Edwards
Yes, this is by THAT Julie Andrews. In addition to two memoirs, Andrews has written several books for children, and Mandy is a particular delight. Mandy is a ten-year-old girl who feels lost in the world until she discovers a deserted cottage in the woods near the English orphanage where she lives. Throughout most of the year, she sneaks away to the cottage, gradually beautifying it and making it her own. Though this book is more recently written than the others on the list and isn’t set in a specified time period, it’s lush descriptions of nature, sweet storyline, and winning heroine make it a natural fit for any Anne Shirley fan.