I've just finished reading one of Louisa May Alcott's lesser-known titles, "Lulu's Library (Volume 3)," first published in 1889.
"Lulu's Library" is a three-volume set of short stories that were originally told to Alcott's young niece as bedtime stories; as such, they are written at a slightly younger reading level than the author's more familiar children's novels. The tales fall into three categories: traditional fairy stories (of the "little beings living down at the end of the garden" type), stories in which the characters have magical adventures, and more realistic stories set firmly in the real world.
It doesn't really matter in what order the books are read, so for some reason I began with the last one. Unlike the earlier books in the series, this one is almost entirely composed of the the more realistic type of stories, with only one being an outright fantasy.
I did enjoy the book, though I'll admit that it will primarily be of interest to those who are already admirers of Alcott's work. If you've never read any of her books, I certainly wouldn't start with this one.
I suppose I'm a bit defensive on the subject of Alcott's writings; I appreciate her talent, but it's true enough that her work has a certain sort of old-fashioned piety that has long been out of fashion in children's literature. And as such, it is very easy to make fun of, or be sarcastic about, this style of writing. And goodness knows I've mocked other examples of mid-Victorian children's lit; for instance, I've had great fun poking fun at the horrible Elsie Dinsmore books! But I don't have a similarly low opinion of Alcott's work, for the following reason.
There's no question that her children's novels and stories are very sentimental, and in most cases contain a fairly clear moral. But she doesn't go about making her points in an objectionable way. The lessons she imparts to her young readers aren't particularly religious in nature (unlike the content of the works of many of her contemporaries). And the morals espoused time and time again in her books are quite simple and basic. The points she tries to get across?
Work hard in whatever field for which you display some natural talent. Be kind and generous to those less fortunate than yourselves. You have the power to make other's lives more pleasant---no matter how narrow or limited your sphere of influence, a positive attitude in your daily life will help lift the spirits of those around you. And finally---treat others in the same way you wish to be treated.
All sounds pretty simple, yes? But man, I have to think that about 95% of the problems in this world would be solved if everyone took those lessons to heart very seriously.
So, I do appreciate Alcott despite the sentimentality of some of her writings. I've been collecting some of her lesser-known titles these past couple of months, and I'll no doubt mention a few of them on this thread at one point or another.
My own set of "Lulu's Library" is a reprint published in 1919 by Little Brown and Company. The books have plain red boards, but nicely decorated spines. And each story is illustrated with a half-page illustration at the beginning of the chapter---very attractive.
This 1919 edition was the very last time these books were reprinted, as far as I am aware. (Apart from any modern print-on-demand editions, I mean.) After that time the 32 stories that made up the set were edited down to only 9, which were then published in a single volume in 1930 also using the title "Lulu's Library." So, any copies of this book from 1920 onward are likely to be the edited version.
I was incredibly lucky to find this set; a quick search shows that these books just are not very easy or inexpensive to find nowadays; I don't see any other sets for sale anywhere, in fact.