Friday, March 04, 2011

Lessons from Miss Suzy

As a parent and educator I am ever thinking about how I might help my children love what they ought to love and in the proper degree. I wrote a little about that some months ago. Recently an online friend wrote about books being one of the most effective tools to help our children develop this moral imagination. And though I am usually thinking about literature and the ideas it embodies, developing the moral imagination of my children, this week, as I neatened up a bookshelf in our home and came across a favorite childhood book of mine, I pondered how it had influenced my moral imagination.

"Oh I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I'll make an acorn cake!"

I thank my mom for introducing me to good books. Miss Suzy was one of a number of books she purchased for me on subscription from the Parents' Magazine Press. And while Miss Suzy may not be classic literature it was a beloved story of my childhood, of my sibling's childhoods, and my children's childhood.

When I was young, I loved the idea of coziness and Miss Suzy's existence was, to me, the epitome of coziness. Her home was fitted simply but cozily with homemade acorn cups, a maple twig broom, and firefly lamps, and sat at the tip, tip, top of a tall oak tree.

"At night Miss Suzy climbed into her bed and looked through the topmost branches at the sky. She saw a million stars. And the wind blew gently and rocked her to sleep. It was very peaceful."

The picture of Miss Suzy, snuggled under her thick comforter, looking out her window, is etched in my memory.

Unfortunately, a band of marauding red squirrels ran Miss Suzy out of her home and she escaped to the attic of an old house. In the attic she found an old doll house, elegantly fitted with flowered carpets, china dishes, and gold chandeliers. As the house had been vacant and everything was covered in dust, Miss Suzy set about cleaning and putting everything in order.

Next, she found a box in the attic and upon opening it discovered a band of toy soldiers. Set free by Miss Suzy, they came to live in the doll house where she cared for them, cooking their meals and tucking them in at night with a story.

As time passes, Miss Suzy became increasingly homesick for her little house in the oak tree; she told the toy soldiers the story of the her home and how the red squirrels had chased her away.

"Late that night the captain woke his men and gave them their orders. There were only five of them, but they were very brave, and their hearts were full of love..."

The toy soldiers chased the red squirrels from Miss Suzy's home so she moved back in and made the soldiers promise to come for dinner once every week. Miss Suzy then went to work setting her little home in order;

"she had to work very hard to make her old home as neat and cozy as it had been before, but she didn't mind."

I chuckled to myself as I reflected on this story, which was formative in my life, as today it would definitely not be considered politically correct: a female protagonist finds contentment in cooking, baking, and caring for her home. She then devotes herself to caring for a band of male toy soldiers, who in turn fight for her when she needs them. Interestingly, I noticed on Miss Suzy's Amazon page that this book has received 133 reviews--132 readers rated it with five stars and one rated it with four. Maybe there is something to this homemaking business? I'm buying a copy of this book for each of my children to take with them into their future homes.


Woman of the House said...

Pish-tosh on political correctness! Sounds like my kind of book! I love books that include a lot of homemaking. In fact, my book of the week this week was very satisfying in that way. I plan to post something later today.

The cover of Miss Suzy looks very familiar, but I don't think I've ever read it. A trip to the children's section of our library may be in order . . .

Jodi said...

Miss Suzy sounds like my kind of, I mean squirrel. Acorn cake? Yes!

Laura A said...

Oh, I remember that book! I remembered the cover right away, but I didn't remember the story at first. Then, slowly, as I read your details, it started to come back! Yes, those acorn cups and firefly lamps were very inspiring--I think they began a storm of "house-building" under the pine trees outside about then. Miss Suzy reminds me of my grandmother, and did even back then.

And those red squirrels made me pretty mad, too. Now that I think about it, they reminded me of the bully-ish boys in preschool who would stomp on my block castles. Oh, dear!

Who know Miss Suzy would have such an influence on a generation of young girls? Thanks for making me remember!

Julie said...

Books are definitely what help children develop a creative imagination and it is good that written texts accompany every moments of their lives. When I made a trip to Argentina, I wanted my daughter to take most of her book. We were renting a buenos aires apartment so I knew she was going to have room to save them.

Michelle said...

Melissa, I was just thinking of you this morning and decided to check in here to see what you've been up to! Miss Suzy was one of my favorite books as a little girl, too! I always loved her acorn cups. :-)

Malena's taking a quilting class this semester through our home school co-op...too bad Kristen isn't here to join her! I get intimidated just looking at hers...the ones you've been working on look more my speed. We miss seeing you all!


Quotidian Life said...

Hi Michelle,

Nice to hear from you! I hope to post soon about a new craft I've been trying to find time to work on. As a fellow thrifters, you and Malena might like it. Stay tuned... And, hope your move goes smoothly.

Anonymous said...

This was one of my FAVORITE books when I was little. My patient father read it to me night after night, and together we would cheer for the soldiers. My mother made an almond cake and we pretended it was an acorn cake. My favorite chore was to dust and search for cobwebs. My other favorites were "Never Tease a Weasel" and "Walter the Wolf". Such great stories fill with memorable illustrations and lines that I still find myself repeating after 35 years. Thanks for your blog .. it's delightful!