Excellently formatted, Kindle version of two classic, public-domain children’s books from 1913-1915
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: 1913 & 1915
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
In this beloved children’s classic, 11-year-old, recently orphaned, Pollyanna Whittier, travels by train from a small town in the West, where she had been raised by her impoverished, widowed, missionary father, to live with her wealthy, maternal aunt, Polly Harrington, who lives in the fictional, rural village of Beldingville, Vermont. Aunt Polly is 40, single and has been embittered by her alienated, loveless existence. By virtue of her wealth and social status, she is an anointed leader in the town, but she is not emotionally close to anyone. She endured a broken engagement 20 years ago and has apparently had no suitors since. She suffered the death of both her parents and all the rest of her family, and she has no living relatives now except Pollyanna. But even so, she has no desire to become her niece’s guardian. She prefers to maintain her orderly, staid existence just the way it is, and she believes a child will bring nothing to her life but noise, mess and chaos. However, she believes it is her bounden duty to take in Pollyanna as blood kin, so the only thing she can do is try to mitigate the damage. She decides she will be able to ignore her niece most of the time by consigning her to a cheerless attic room at the top of the enormous Harrington mansion.
Unfortunately for this unfeeling plan, Pollyanna is not a child anyone can ignore. The sweet-natured, upbeat and gregarious child is a ray of sunshine in the gloomy mansion. The guiding principle of her young life, which she learned from her minister father, is called, “the Glad Game.” In every life circumstance, no matter how grim, the goal of this game is to find something, no matter how insignificant, to be glad about. Soon Polly spreads her Glad Game all over town, and in the process makes friends everywhere, including a fellow orphan, Jimmy Bean, who is ten years old.
Pollyanna Grows Up (1915)
The events in this book occur about a year and a half after the events at the end of Pollyanna, which spread across more than a year. Pollyanna is currently almost 13 years old. While her Aunt Polly and the kind, local doctor, Dr. Chilton, whom her aunt married in the previous book, are traveling in Germany, Pollyanna is invited to Boston to stay with a very wealthy and privileged, but nonetheless lonely and embittered, 33-year-old woman named Mrs. Carew, who was widowed 15 years ago after only one year of marriage to a much older man. Life in the big city is very different from the close-knit community in Vermont where Pollyanna’s sunny nature has earned her many loving friends. People in Boston don’t respond to Pollyanna’s friendly overtures, until she finally meets two young people who respond to her and are intrigued by the Glad Game, Jamie, a disabled boy of 12 who is confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain due to an old injury from a fall, and a lovely, teenaged, department-store clerk named Sadie Dean who, like Pollyanna, is the offspring of a minister. Pollyanna’s loving disposition stimulates a major change for the better in their lives and that of the depressed, self-pitying Mrs. Carew.
Halfway through the book, the story jumps ahead until Polly is 20. For the previous six years, we learn that she has been living during the winters in Germany, and traveling around the world the rest of the year, with her aunt and Dr. Chilton. In all that time, she has only visited Beldingville once for a few weeks when she was 16. But now she has returned, all grown up, and reconnects with her three childhood friends who are all grown up now, too, Jimmy, Jamie and Sadie.
Pollyanna is what’s known as a “classic” children’s novel, in that it has remained consistently popular for over 100 years and has never gone out of print. It is completely G-rated and suitable for all ages. Pollyanna has been made into an equally G-rated movie twice:
Disney’s Pollyanna movie from 1960 stars Hayley Mills as Pollyanna, Jane Wyman as Aunt Polly and, most notably (for me, anyway), Agnes Moorehead as the querulous invalid, Mrs. Snow. They changed the plot somewhat, but overall, it has a star-studded cast and is mostly true to the spirit of the book, even though many events have been condensed or deleted, and a whole section about a town celebration has been added.
There is also a made-for-TV movie from 2003, which I personally have not yet had a chance to see. However, it seems to have a number of talented actors in it.
This edition of these two books is well formatted and edited, making it easy on the eyes—which is not always the case with Kindle versions of public domain, classic novels.
I had very fond memories of the Disney movie but somehow had never read the book. I recently ran across this Kindle version on Amazon and was delighted to find that there is a sequel which was included in a two-for deal. I found myself riveted by the story of Pollyanna’s life, all the way through both books. I could barely stand to put down these books until I had sped through to the end. I loved Pollyanna and the strong growth arc of all the characters, whose lives her optimistic outlook affected in very positive ways.
It is odd what a negative spin over the years has been put on the term, “pollyanna.” It is almost universally used as a pejorative and, as such, is very much part of the zeitgeist of the USA. A “pollyanna” is defined as a blindly, foolishly or unjustifiably optimistic person. That spin on the Pollyanna character, in my opinion, completely misses the point of the novel. In fact, this book is ahead of its time in that the “Glad Game” very much fits into major areas of modern counseling psychology, including: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), behavior modification (B-mod), and positive psychology. It also brings to mind the Serenity Prayer and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. I can’t resist including information about those things to show how prescient Pollyanna actually is.
The Serenity Prayer is world famous. It was written by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), first appearing in 1944 as part of his book, “A Book of Prayers and Services for the Armed Forces.” It soon after began being used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a core feature of their healing protocol. No doubt AA has done more than anything else to popularize this prayer.
The Power of Positive Thinking is a 1952 self-help book by Norman Vincent Peale which contains ideas similar to the Glad Game.
CBT was pioneered by psychiatrist, Dr. Aaron T. Beck, in the 1960s. It has been heavily researched and found to be more beneficial than psychoactive drugs to combat many different mental disorders, most especially depression and anxiety. Its key principle is the concept of “cognitive distortions,” which are irrational and often inaccurate interpretations of events which have only one, unconscious, goal: to promote anxiety and despair by encouraging a belief that one is a helpless victim of a malign fate. CBT trains practitioners to talk back to their distorted, negative thoughts and replace them with rational, positive thoughts.
Behavior modification originated in the 1970s, and its key principle is the concept of, “What you put your attention on grows.” It is similar to CBT in that starving negative behavior (including negative thinking) of reinforcing attention acts to extinguish it. And feeding positive behavior (including positive thinking) via reinforcing attention acts to enhance it.
Positive psychology originated in the 1990s. Its key principle is to foster positive attitudes towards one’s life experiences, including one’s emotional, mental and physical situation, regardless of how objectively challenging those life experiences might be. The ground-zero goal is to stop labeling oneself as a helpless-hopeless victim, and the ultimate hope is to foster an attitude of acceptance of one’s past, which cannot be changed, hopeful anticipation about one’s future prospects, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present. (This very much echoes the Serenity Prayer, and more or less expands the key concept included in the short prayer into a whole program.)
Finally, in the medical field of the management of chronic pain, there are multiple versions of the Glad Game. For example: There is a technique called, altered focus, which has a similar principle to the above mental-health therapies. It involves consciously removing one’s agonized focus from the parts of the body which are in pain and re-focusing one’s attention on a part of the body that is free of pain and, ideally, a part of the body that is actually feeling pleasantly comfortable, even if that part of the body is as small as a single finger or toe, or the tip of one’s nose. There has also been a great deal of research on the technique of, “mindfulness.” This involves distracting oneself from a focus on pain by participating in harmlessly enjoyable activities. Such pursuits raise endorphins in the body, which are the body’s natural defense against pain. There is also an anti-pain version of “positive thinking,” which involves redirecting one’s focus away from what one cannot do to instead focus on what one is capable of doing. This pulls one out of victimhood by creating a sense of self-empowerment.
Having worked as a family therapist, I’ve seen the power of the “Glad Game” in all these therapies, and I found it completely believable that playing that game could completely transform the lives of everyone whom Polllyanna taught it to who consistently played the game. Because of the expression of the game in Pollyanna as its vivid, highly sympathetic exemplar, I found reading the book itself overall to be both highly entertaining and extremely emotionally uplifting.
In addition, I enjoy love stories of all kinds, and there is a great deal of loving friendship and mentorship throughout both of these books as well as, toward the end of Book 2, not one but three HEA romances.
All of the characters in this book are well drawn, well motivated, and very distinct from each other. This author excelled at creating unique, colorful people in these two books.
All in all, I believe that Pollyanna’s story remains as relevant today as it was 100 years ago, and it can be enjoyed by people of all ages and all backgrounds, because its ideas are universal and timeless.
I rate this book as follows:
Family Drama Plot: 5
Social Drama Plot: 5