Frances Hodgson Burnett was a children's book author during the latter part of the nineteenth century. She is well-known for writing sweet girls' stories with remarkably fairy tale-like qualities. A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, two of her best-known titles, have garnered so much respect that they have been made into movies several times.
A Cinderella Story: A Little Princess
A Little Princess is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story, in which the main character, Sara Crewe, loses everything she holds dear. When she is first sent to boarding school while her father is abroad, Sara is the darling of the teachers and the envy of all the other girls--mainly because of the way her father dotes on her, showering her with gifts and love.
Sara's innocence quickly comes to an end when her father is killed in India. With her financial security no longer certain and her tuition no longer paid, the teachers and other students begin to treat her in a radically different manner. Sara's education is halted; all of her pretty, expensive things are taken away, and she is transferred upstairs, to a tiny maid's room in the attic. Now that she is a pauper--unable to pay for her keep--Sara suffers cruelty at the hands of her former friends. The most pronounced mistreatment comes from the school's owner, the stern Miss Minchin.
During her servitude, Sara maintains her spirits as much as possible, impressing her former friends (and infuriating Miss Minchin) with her ability to act like a princess even when she is dressed in black rags, overworked and underfed. Eventually Sara's enduring optimism rewards her with a chance to regain much of what she has lost: she makes friends with an Indian gentleman in the neighboring house, and eventually discovers that he was her father's dearest friend.
As fate would have it, Sara's new friend has been searching for her since her father's death. Thanks to Miss Minchin's heartlessness, Sara had all but disappeared; and it turns out that Sara is a pauper no longer, but the heiress of an impressive fortune.
Dream a Little Dream of A Little Princess
A Little Princess has many of the qualities that children find endearing in a favorite book. Although there are good adults in the book--Sara's father and the Indian gentleman, most notably--there are also several adults who are either cruel (Miss Minchin) or weak (Miss Minchin's sister, Miss Amelia). Sara existed under the most deplorable circumstances while under their care. But, the situation also offers something empathetic with which any reader can associate onself. We also emphathize with Sara's optimism and imaginary play, while the fairy tale ending offers just the fortunate outcome every reader wants.
In A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett demonstrates why she was such a successful children's author in her day. Her wonderful ability to see into the hearts and dreams of little girls has made her a favorite for well over a century, and her books will no doubt continue to be loved for many years to come.