HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Phebe Fairchild: Her Book, Story and Pictures
Author and Illustrator: Lois Lenski
Publisher: Frederick A. Stokes Inc., republished 1964
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Lenski, Lois. Phebe Fairchild: Her Book, Story and Pictures (published in 1936 by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, PA). It is 1830, and ten year old Phebe Fairchild lives with her father, a merchant and sea captain, and mother in New Haven, CT. However, Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild are going to take an extended voyage on their ship, the Phebe Ann, to Europe, so Phebe is sent alone by stage to spend a year with her father’s family on their Litchfield County farm at Winton in northwestern Connecticut. There she meets her Uncle Jothan and Aunt Betsy with their five children, Timothy, Samuel, Philip, Belinda, and Susan, ranging from fifteen to seven, Grandmother Melissa, Aunt Hannah, and Uncle Benjamin, along with their household help, neighbors, and friends. Her Uncle Thad and Aunt Lucretia run the store in Winton, and her Great Aunt Eliza Pettifer also lives nearby.
Phebe and her family are Episcopalians, but the rest of the family are “stern and strict” Puritans, so Father tells Phebe that she will need “patience and courage a-plenty,” and cautions her not to let the others take away her Mother Goose book or her treasured jewels. Can Phebe learn to adapt to her new surroundings, and can her relatives learn to tolerate her? Will Father and Mother make it home safely? And will Uncle Benjamin ever get married? This historical children’s novel, illustrated by the author, was first published in 1936 and was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1937. In addition to illustrating the first four Betsy-Tacy books, Lois Lenski (1893-1974) was the 1946 Newberry Medal winning author of Strawberry Girl.
Phebe is not a paragon of perfection and doesn’t always stay within bounds, but she has a good heart, tries hard to respect her elders, and learns some important lessons. He relatives seem harsh and even cruel at first with their rigid point of view towards children’s play and clothes, but they eventually soften up somewhat. There are some common euphemisms (tarnation, gosh, gee), and the term “My God” is used once as an interjection. A few passing references to using tobacco and to various alcoholic beverages are found. However, their religion is very important to the Fairchilds, even if one doesn’t necessarily always agree with every aspect of it, and the entertaining story does a good job of depicting the life and times of rural Connecticut in the 1830s. Kirkus Review said, “One of the nicest things Lois Lenski has given us.”