Louisa May Alcott, more famously known for her Little Women series, takes a familiar nursery rhyme and creates a whole novel out of it in one of her last books Jack and Jill: A Village Story. Though she continued to publish under the penname AM Barnard, this book probably marked the end of a particular writing phase in 1880.
Jack and Jill is set in the fictional Harmony Village. On a December afternoon, the youngsters of the village are out enjoying the bracing cold and snow. The bright winter shines down as they have fun skating and sledding. A group of spectators sits on the fences, watching their more active friends zoom past on toboggans or skates. A shiny red sled comes hurtling past, carrying a tall, golden haired lad and a tiny, black haired girl. They are the inseparable friends, Jack Minot and Janey Pecq, nicknamed Jack and Jill by the villagers in keeping with the famous rhyme. Disaster strikes when Janey (Jill) compels Jack to coast down a perilous slope. The two are seriously injured and the rest of the story follows their convalescence and consequent growing into maturity and adulthood.
Apart from the entertaining and educational story, Jack and Jill also tackles several important social issues of the day. Children's health, the transition from childhood to adolescence, the importance of emotional support during illness and the life-changing consequences of our impulsive actions are some of the themes that are explored in detail in this entertaining yet thought provoking novel.
Filled with interesting characters and Alcott's typical spiritual underpinnings, the book also looks at that crucial stage of human development – Adolescence. This phase, with all its emotional and physical changes, the angst and joys, the rebellion and the learning are all wonderfully portrayed through many of the characters like Molly Boo and other friends of Jack and Janey.
Many of Louisa May Alcott's stories and novels are based on autobiographical elements. Her father, Amos Bronson Alcott was a spiritual healer and teacher who compelled his family to adopt an unconventional and experimental lifestyle in a commune. The young Louisa was a rebel and chafed under the tough child rearing practices favored by her father. Some of these features can be seen in her fictional characters like Jo March. In this particular book, Jack and Jill too, where Janey Pecqt's mettlesome personality is finally “tamed.”
As an early forerunner of the “tough love” philosophy of child rearing, Jack and Jill is indeed an interesting and entertaining read.
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