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Hildegarde’s Neighbors

February 19, 2009

Somehow I never remember how awesome the Hildegarde books are when I’m not reading them, which is why it took me such a long time to get around to rereading Hildegarde’s Neighbors. I don’t think I love it as much as Hildegarde’s Home, but it does introduce the Merryweathers, who are lots of fun. Bell, the eldest, becomes Hildegarde’s best friend, although she is also very fond of Gertrude (Peggy‘s Snowy Owl) and twins Gerald and Philip, who call each other Obadiah and Ferguson.

There isn’t a lot going on plotwise, but the book is none the worse for that. Hilda discovers a secret room off her bedroom, turns eighteen, goes camping with the Merryweathers, and sort of falls in love with Mr. Merryweather’s half-brother Roger, who is in his mid-twenties.

It’s very cute, because she really looks up to him, and he, while a paragon in most respects, is kind of shy and doesn’t think she likes him. Still, I don’t really want to see Hilda in love; she makes such a perfect teenager. Which is not to say that teenagers can’t fall in love, but that when they do, in books of this sort, they tend to get very serious and grow up all at once. Hilda still has almost a whole book to go before she really grows up, though.

When I say Hilda makes a perfect teenager, I really mean it. She’s still sort of a kid, and plays games with younger children, but she’s also apt to remember that she’s supposed to be a dignified young woman in the middle of playing Indians with Jerry and Phil. And she tries to take on new responsibilities, and take care of the younger children in the book, and altogether it’s far more convincing than anything you’ll find in Louisa May Alcott.

Laura E. Richards seems to me to have a very good understanding of how young people act, even if the characters in her books are a bit on the unnaturally good side. And then — I know I say this about almost every children’s book I like, but it’s a really great indicator of quality — when Richard’s characters laugh and joke and play games, you genuinely believe that they’re enjoying themselves, and you laugh along with them. I mean, what more could you ask for?

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