I am so excited to share my review of Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field today. Hitty won the 1930 Newbery Medal and I was excited to read this early winner. It took me a bit to really get invested in Hitty’s story, but soon I really enjoyed it.
I was lucky to buddy read this novel with my friend Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku. You might remember our first Newbery buddy read of When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (go read that novel now! It’s fantastic!). After we both finish the novel, we each come up with 5 questions (total of 10) to answer in our reviews. I loved our first buddy read because it helped me think more deeply about a great novel with a good friend. Excited to talk more about Hitty!
As with our previous buddy read, we include several plot spoilers in our reviews so we can discuss the full novel. If you don’t want any spoilers, I encourage you to read it first then come back to our reviews.
First, a short summary from Goodreads, “Hitty is a doll of great charm and character. It is indeed a privilege to publish her memoirs, which, besides being full of the most thrilling adventures on land and sea, also reveal her delightful personality. One glance at her portrait will show that she is no ordinary doll. Hitty, or Mehitable as she was really named, was made in the early 1800s for Phoebe Preble, a little girl from Maine. Young Phoebe was very proud of her beautiful doll and took her everywhere, even on a long sailing trip in a whaler. This is the story of Hitty’s years with Phoebe, and the many that follow in the life of a well-loved doll.“
1. Hitty: The First Hundred Years won the 1930 Newbery award, making it one of the older Newbery award winners we’ll be reading. How does reading this book compared to the more modern winners? Is there anything in particular from this book which makes you think it is award-winning material?
I think the biggest difference is the pace of the novel. The story doesn’t revolve around the plot as much as newer winners have. It took me probably 50 pages to really feel invested in Hitty and her story. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be slower paced. In fact, by the end I really appreciated the way the story moves along.
I think the biggest reason that makes this novel award winning material is the point of view. It’s so clever that the entire story is given to us from Hitty herself. A doll as a narrator–I’ve never read anything like this. It’s so clever!
2. Our narrator is Hitty, a mountain-ash wood doll, reflecting on her life. Have you ever read a story narrated by a toy? If so, which one(s)? How is reading a story from a doll’s perspective different than that of a human? Did you ever forget Hitty was a doll?
I haven’t read a story narrated by a toy before. But I do own (and want to read) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo which is about a toy. And I did wonder if the Toy Story writers read this book for inspiration 😉
I think the biggest difference is not knowing what happened to Hitty’s former owners. Because she is a doll, her perspective is limited to what’s happening right in front of her. Her experience is limited to a rather small universe. I think I forgot she was a doll during her early years with Phoebe Preble. But later she changed owners so fast it was hard to forget that she wasn’t human.
Also, Hitty is passive because, well, she has to be. She doesn’t have much control over where she falls or who picks her up or if mice lick her face or if she falls face down in a puddle. That made her obviously nonhuman for me.
3. This book takes place over Hitty’s life, approximately 100 years. Field never explicitly states what years this covers. What years do you think Hitty’s story takes place in? What led you to assume those years?
I love this question! I think Hitty’s story starts around the 1830’s because of the details of life for the Prebles. Then we get details about the Civil War with the Quaker family. And cars start becoming more mainstream later with Hitty’s last few owners. She also references airplanes as a new idea at the end of the novel. So I guess that would put the end of the novel around the 1930’s.
Also, I think Hitty’s clothes show the passing of time because of the changes in what her owners make for her from traditional Quaker outfits to fancy ballgowns and even a wedding dress! I love that her chemise survives all her adventures with her!
4. 100 years is a lot of time! Which part of Hitty’s history did you enjoy the most? The least? Why?
I really loved her first years with the Prebles. Phoebe loved Hitty so much and it was fun to see how she kept coming back to them from various potential disasters. Also I loved the description of the Maine setting. The scenes on the island where so fascinating to me as well. I also enjoyed when she was in the Cotton Exhibition and then stolen by that little girl (I can’t remember her name!)
Hitty’s time with Little Thankful was probably my least favorite because I couldn’t believe Thankful was sent to live with her grandparents when her parents were both still alive. That was so sad for me. Also I didn’t like how she hid Hitty in the sofa because she was embarrassed by her.
5. Field uses dialect often to denote Hitty’s travels and how the people she encounters are different through these travels. What do you think of the use of dialect? Did it make the characters more believable or authentic? What about the setting?
Hitty is so well traveled! I think the differences in the dialect from the Prebles, island natives, and then in Bombay were the most striking for me. I was surprised how authentic everything felt. Perhaps because there are the Christian missionaries in India that show the contrast of backgrounds. I was also struck by the differences between the Quaker family and the family that hired the woman who made Hitty her fancy clothes as a work sample. It was interesting to be inside so many homes across the country and across the world and see how different people value different things.
6. The Prebles are shipwrecked on an island for a time. How do things change when people are simply trying to survive? What things in our culture do we think are extremely important but really aren’t?
This was one of my favorite parts of the book because it was so fascinating–an 1800’s shipwreck was so intense. And to have Phoebe and her mother along too–I can’t imagine! It was interesting how each person reacted to the loss of their ship and livelihood. They were all so calm, so focused on what they had to do to get home. I was impressed by the way they worked together and were positive (especially for Phoebe). I suppose it shows the resilience of the human spirit. We can overcome whatever we are presented with.
I suppose I was also surprised how little the Preble’s had or needed during their time. They managed to eat from the trees on the island. They had basic clothes (which were in a sad state by the end of their time on the island). And they had each other.
7. Hitty has many owners who treat her in different ways. Which owner was your favorite? Which was your least favorite? Why?
I really loved Phoebe Preble. She loved Hitty from the start and was always so grateful to get her back. I was so sad when Hitty was lost from the Preble’s for good. I also enjoyed Hitty’s time with Isabella because she was so confident and also loved Hitty.
Thankful was probably my least favorite because she was so spoiled and didn’t appreciate Hitty (I feel defensive about Hitty!) I thought it was sad that Hitty didn’t have little girls play with her for the last several years of her memoirs. It seemed that mostly old ladies collected her rather than played with her.
8. Rachel Field was inspired to write Hitty when she saw a doll in an antique shop. Some say it is Field that will buy Hitty from the antique shop at the end of the novel. Regardless, Hitty’s story ends with potential for her to have new owners. What do you think will happen to Hitty?
I think she will be bought, and I hope by a grandmother or something. Someone who will allow her to be played with again. I like to think she won’t be lost again. So perhaps she will live with a grandmother whose granddaughters play with Hitty when they come visit. And maybe when the grandmother dies, her granddaughter inherits Hitty and her daughters play with her–on down through many more years.
One thing is for sure, I think Hitty has many more years of life ahead!
9. Is there anything you would change about this story? Are there any details you wish were more clear or specific? Any people you wish you learned more about after their time with Hitty?
The main detail I would like to change is what happens to Hitty’s owners after she moves on? I was hoping to hear about the Prebles or to reunite with Phoebe at the end of the novel but we only get a glimpse of their old home. I would have liked a quite summary of how the girls reacted to losing their doll and how they turned out when they grew up.
10. Dorothy Lathrop illustrations are throughout the novel giving pictures to the many adventures of Hitty. How do the illustrations add to (or detract from) the story?
I love novels with illustrations and I love the Lathrop pictures in this novel. I think it adds to the story by giving Hitty a face for her readers. It makes her story feel more real because there she is in a crow’s nest or in the water or by a snake charmer basket or on display at the exhibition. I think the pictures would make this a fun book to read aloud because you could show young readers the pictures to help with the storytelling.
In the end, I’d say I thoroughly enjoyed Hitty’s adventures. And I think they would be fun to read to my kids in the future. This is definitely a different type of Newbery winner, but it’s well deserved!
What are your favorite early Newbery winners?
What are the most interesting point of views of novels you’ve read?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as part of my Newbery Challenge
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.