June 1, 1843
We are all going to be made perfect. This day we left Concord in the rain to travel by wagon the ten miles to our new home, which Father has named Fruitlands…Father drove the wagon. Mother was beside him holding two-year-old Abby May. Mr. Lane and Anna set us a good example by walking while I sat selfishly in the wagon with Lizzie…
Father and Mr. Lane are removing us from the imperfect world. By the fine example we all set at Fruitlands, we are to be a means of improving mankind. We will do nothing that might harm our brother animals. We will eat only fruit, vegetables, and grains. Because milk belongs to the cow and her calf, we will drink only water.
Father says we may eat those things that grow upright, aspiring to the air, such as apples, wheat, and cabbage. We are not to eat base things like potatoes and beets, which grow downward into the dirt.
When Louisa May Alcott was ten years old, her family embarked on a radical experiment. Her father, Bronson Alcott, a transcendentalist, began a utopian farm community named Fruitlands, where they devoted themselves to such principles as self-sufficiency, pure living, and a strict diet. Perfect humanity, perfectly harmonious relationships, were to be the results.
Seven months after it began, Fruitlands dissolved in failure.
Gloria Whelan’s fictionalized journal entries describe these months from the point of view of young Louisa. Whelan has conjured up two diaries: one is Louisa’s polite account, fit for her parents’ review; the other is a secret journal for her true, honest thoughts. Between the two, we read about her father’s lofty ideals, squabbles among the commune members, her mother’s loyalty and common sense, and the bitter cold and hunger which finally drove them to disband. Meanwhile, we see glimmers of the feisty, independent, tomboy who would one day appear as Jo in Little Women.
Whelan’s beautifully-told story is just over 100 pages long and is accessible to mid-elementary and up. Her prose flows smoothly; Louisa’s experience and thoughts shine out in an engaging voice. For those of you whose children know the story of Little Women, this will be especially interesting. Even without that background, though, Louisa’s experiences make an intriguing read.
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