During a recent visit to the “new books” section of the library, Susan Cheever’s biography of Louisa May Alcott caught my eye. How could I not check out this latest look at one of my favorite authors?
For the blue-tunicked little girl who followed her headmaster’s often-repeated reminder, “Woman by birth, lady by choice,” Little Women was a fitting choice for character-building. When I wasn’t reading my Tasha Tudor-illustrated copy of the book, I was playing with my Madame Alexander dolls of Marmee, her four daughters, and Laurie. After having read the classic so many times, it’s easily my favorite book, and it left quite an impression. Marmee’s motto, “Hope and Keep Busy,” and Jo’s “mood pillow” have become part of my vocabulary. When I had my picture taken for a library’s “READ” poster a few years ago, there was no doubt what book I’d hold: a signed copy of the first volume of the first edition of Little Women from the special collections that I tended.
So it’s no surprise that Orchard House, the Concord, Massachusetts home where the Alcotts lived from 1858 to 1877, was on the itinerary for some of our summer vacations. The iconic chocolate-colored house is filled with 80 percent of the family’s original furnishings, including the shelf desk that Bronson built for Louisa, at which she sat to write Little Women in 1868, and May’s sketches on the woodwork and doors of her bedroom. Like Susan Cheever described in the preface to her book, being in Orchard House was thrilling.
Equally thrilling was a discovery I made while catching up on my “American Libraries Direct” weekly e-mails. As a result of funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Library Association awarded grants to 30 libraries to develop outreach programs this year that will focus on “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women,” a documentary film and companion biography by Harriet Reisen about Alcott’s life, work and the historical and cultural events that inspired her.
Thank goodness an Ohio library is one of those grant recipients. The Sandusky Library plans to offer a book discussion, a viewing of the documentary and other Alcott-related programs this fall, all of which will be promoted on its website at the end of the summer. To see which libraries received grants to offer “Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women” outreach programs, click here.
Looks like Little Women and Harriet Reisen’s book will be on my summer reading list!