Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Rackety-Packety House Is Simply Enchanting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I remember reading both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess as a child, but I had never heard of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Rackety-Packety House until my mother-in-law bought it for my daughter. We've been reading this gorgeous 100th anniversary edition (pictured above), and it has been a pure pleasure. I worried that my daughter would be a little bored with the old-fashioned story (since she's used to the non-stop action of books like the Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse series), but it enchanted us both. The story even captured my 9-year-old son's attention - for a few pages, anyway!

The Rackety-Packety House concerns a family of Dutch jointed dolls, whose shabby, old house gets relocated to an "unfashionable neighborhood" (2) in the far corner of the nursery when their owner gets a sparkling new dollhouse, called Tidy Castle. Next to the new "neighbors" the old dolls look especially scruffy in their crumbling home and patched-up clothing. Despite their down-at-heel circumstances, the residents of Rackety-Packety House manage to make the most of what they have. According to our narrator, Queen Crosspatch, they

went through all sorts of things, and if they had not been such a jolly lot of dolls they might have had fits and appendicitis and died of grief. But not a bit of it ... they got fun out of everything ... When Meg's pink silk flounces were torn she pinnned them up and didn't mind in the least, and when Peg's lace mantilla was played with by a kitten and brought back to her in rags and tags, she just put a few stitches in it and put it on again; when Peter Piper lost almost the whole leg of one of his trousers he just laughed and said it made it easier for him to kick about and turn somersaults and he wished the other leg would tear off too (9).

Their jovial nature makes them popular with the other nursery creatures, so everyone worries when they hear that Rackety-Packety House and all its occupants are headed for the trash bin. For the moment, however, it is hidden behind a chair so it "won't disgrace the castle" (19). Relieved to be forgotten, the old dolls carry on with their fun and dancing. Although they are content in their shabby home, spying on the snobby castle dolls provides the Rackety-Packetys with plenty of entertainment. When Lady Patsy arrives at the castle (after having a leg mended), the Rackety-Packety dolls become enamored with the pretty girl who "neither turned her nose up, nor looked down the bridge of it, nor laughed mockingly" (40). She, in turn, becomes enamored of the Rackety-Packetys, especially cheerful Peter Piper. In no time, Patsy happily ensconces herself with the shabby dolls, whom she finds so much more exiciting than her own relations.

When scarlet fever hits Tidy Castle, its inhabitants have no choice but to rely on the low bunch at Rackety-Packety House. They prove their worth to the snooty gentry, and reap a delightful reward. The Rackety-Packety House sends its message loud and clear: If you're kind and good, you will always be happy regardless of your circumstances.

Francis Hodgson Burnett writes brilliantly, bringing to life a whole slew of fun characters. Her words sing with a charming, old-fashioned cadence that will enthrall anyone (even a 9-year-old boy). It's simply a beautiful, fun story that carries an important (if a bit transparent) moral. Didacticism be darned, I love this enchanting tale.

Grade: A+


5 comments:

  1. This sounds wonderful! I've never heard of it!

    I just love Secret Garden, Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy. I found a book of hers I hadn't heard of last summer, The Lost Prince, but still have to read it. Looks like she has a lot more treasures to read than just the three famous ones!

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  2. That sounds like a very cute book, kind of like The Velveteen Rabbit (one of my favorites from childhood). I didn't know she wrote other books besides The Secret Garden and Little Princess.

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  3. I liked this book, too. (Of course I read it before I gifted it :) I'm glad that you enjoyed it with your daughter and that a 9 year old boy listened once in awhile as well.

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  4. I want this one Right Now. I only ever read Secret Garden and Little Princess...I loved them so much I wonder why I didn't seek out more of her books when I was little. Of course, that was before the internet, but I could've at least harrassed a librarian or two!

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  5. Thanks for this review - it sounds wonderful. And I've added it to my amazon cart.

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