The Lost Prince by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Genre: middle grade general fiction
Secondary genre: classics/historical
Format read: hard copy
Rep: disability
Rating: planchet-3

Burnett is one of my favorite authors from my childhood. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden were books that got me through the toughest part of middle school, with a little help from Harry Potter and Mercedes Lackey.

I found this particular book at a Half Price and was sold based on the cover and author alone. Published in 1910, this book has a lovely old fashioned cover with gilt accents. I’d never heard of the title, so I snapped it up.

Having now read it, I do see why Princess and Garden are more popular. The story isn’t bad, but it is a bit slow, and our main character, Marco, is not as well-rounded of a character as Mary or Sara, and I didn’t find the plot as intriguing.

But I should probably tell you what the book was about, shouldn’t I?

The story starts with young Marco, his father Stefen, and their servant arriving in London. They have lived all over Europe and even in parts of Asia. Marco has been trained to speak the language of every country they’ve lived in as if he’s a native, mastering English, German, French, Russian, and others, though they are originally from the fictional country of Samavia, a small, war-torn nation in Eastern Europe that appears to border Russia, as well as a small collection of other tiny, made-up nations bent on tearing it apart. Marco and his father have fled the carnage, though they intend to return one day when it is safe. Though they are poor, they live like gentlemen, and insist on proper manners, cleanliness, and a way of holding themselves that sets them apart from the others living in the London slum.

One day while walking, trying to learn the layout of his new city, Marco stumbles upon a group of boys playing in an alley. At their head is a boy on a cart, who clearly cannot walk. Despite this, “the Rat” as he’s called (due to the way he scurries around on his cart, and also a play on his surname) has a power over these boys, and they’d follow him into fire if he asked. The dozen or so children play at military drills and imaginary wars. The Rat reads the papers and learns about current events from his neglectful, alcoholic father.

Among the things he has learned about are the political troubles in Samavia. When he learns that Marco knows of them, too, they team up, adding a richness to “the game” as they dub it that previously didn’t exist. They plan imaginary battles and how to guard or protect the capital city. When The Rat learns the tale of The Lost Prince, their small company dedicates themselves to finding him and restoring him to the throne.

According to legend, 500 years earlier, the good son of a wicked ruler went out for a walk and was never seen again. Shortly after he vanished, his father was murdered and deposed and the current, cruel regime took over.

But there’s a story that the prince was injured and taken in by a monastery, and his line lives on, hidden from view, waiting for the right time to take back the throne.

When Marco tells his father about “the game” his father encourages him, and then slowly begins to reveal his own secrets about their time in England: He, too, has been seeking to restore the lost prince’s line to the throne.

But things take a turn when other discover Stefen’s goal and try to use Marco to find out what he knows. The boys are drawn into political machinations spanning the entire continent, though they themselves have only limited knowledge of what is actually going on.

This book mirrors a lot of the political unrest happening in Europe around the time the book was written, and would probably be a good introduction to pre-WWI history for younger readers, though it is of course fictional and most of the politics involve countries that don’t exist and never did. There is a fairy tale element to it in the way the Lost Prince returns to save his country and his people, instantly bringing peace to the area again.

It wasn’t my favorite Burnett book, but it might be worth a read, especially for younger boys–who are, after all, the intended audience.


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Genre: middle grade general fiction
Format read: ebook
Content warning: bullying
Rep: Autistic coding
Rating: planchet-4

This was one of the formative books of my youth, and I recently decided to revisit it.

Originally published in 1964, it has aged remarkably well considering it doesn’t include cell phones. I can just imagine how much havoc Harriet would wreak if she had access to an iPhone and a laptop.

If you happened to miss this book growing up, let me give you the basics: Harriet is the eleven-year-old daughter of wealthy parents in New York City. Her parents are usually absent, either working or attending parties, leaving Harriet in the care of her nanny, Golly.

And this is where the autistic coding comes in: Harriet does not understand people, especially adults. So she watches them. Obsessively. She has a regular after school route she follows every day, watching the people in her neighborhood. She follows the same path, eats the same foods, and wears the same clothes every day. She knows she isn’t like other kids, but she doesn’t mind–she thinks other kids are pretty dumb, anyway, because they don’t see things the way she does.

She writes down everything she sees in a notebook. This notebook is meant for no one’s eyes except her own. No one else reads it–not her family, not Golly, not even her best friends.

But when one of her classmates gets their hands on it and reads it aloud to the entire sixth grade, Harriet learns just how unwelcome her observations and opinions can be. Suddenly ostracized in the classroom and on the playground, Harriet is at first not bothered by this.

When Golly gets fired, however, things go south quickly. With her world crumbling around her, Harriet can’t muster the will to get out of bed. The classroom has become an unsafe place, where her food is stolen, her work destroyed, and ink poured all over her.

This book moved me to tears in places, even so many years later. It’s obvious now that the poor kid just wanted a voice, but couldn’t find anyone to listen except Golly. When that was taken away, she cracked.

I related to her in so many ways in 5th and 6th grade. I wanted to be a reporter at the time and took to carrying a notebook with me everywhere, just like Harriet. I didn’t understand why everyone hated her so much. Now, I do understand. But that doesn’t mean I think Harriet was wrong.

It would take me an entire website to unpack my feelings about this book. Back in elementary school, I didn’t know it was part of a series. Now that I know this is just one book of several, I’ll definitely be picking up the rest soon.

The only reason I didn’t rank this book 5 stars was because of a few bits that did not age well. For starters, every time some is angry or mean (even if this is justifiable rage), they are referred to as “gestapo” or “Nazi”-like. Considering the general lack of representation in this book, that made me really uncomfortable. There are no characters identified as being POC, or of other religions. The only immigrants in the entire book are an Italian family on Harriet’s spy route. I’m not even sure how you can have a book that white in 1960s New York.

So, if you’re feeling nostalgic, or just looking for a quick read, I would give this one a go.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

Genre: Children’s historical
Format read: hard copy
Representation: Disability, possible autistic coding?
Rating: planchet

When my roommate found out I never read this book as a child, she insisted I had to read it. Honestly, I’d never even heard of it before she brought it up and put it very firmly on my TBR pile.

I think this is considered a chapter book, but children’s lit isn’t my area of expertise. It follows Robin, a young boy in medieval England who is left at home with the servants while his Father is off fighting the Scots with the king and his mother has been called in the service of the queen, who is unwell. But then Robin falls ill, and while he has recovered he’s lost the use of his legs. Meanwhile, plague is ravaging London and the servants run off, leaving this disabled child completely alone.

He’s saved when a monk, a friend of his father, comes to check on him, and takes him back to the monastery. Brother Luke tolerates his bursts of anger and frustration at his newfound situation and loneliness, and helps him find a new normal before taking him to be rejoined with his parents.

Overall, the plot is solid but because this is a short book, barely 100 pages, there isn’t much room for subplots or character developement. For the first two thirds of the book Robin is an obnoxious asshole (understandably, so, but he’s still annoying), and as things heat up at the end the resolution seems too simple.

Maybe this is just because I’m an adult reading a kids book, but I really wanted this to be a 500 page epic a la The Pillars of the Earth, to really get into Robin’s quest to heal and find himself in a world where he’d be easily pushed aside.

I didn’t rate it very high, but that’s my personal opinion. If there’s a kid in your life who is maybe struggling with a physical disability, or a major change in their life, then this would probably be a good book for them to pick up. Or even just to spark an interest in history.