Book Talk

Simpler Times and Strawberry Acres

Hello all! I am back again with a fun, and rare find that I guarantee is not something you already have on your shelves, but something you hopefully may want to add after reading this! But first, a bit about me. As many people who know me in real life know, I was homeschooled growing up. My mother also had a very large library, (and still does.) I grew up lucky enough then to have access to a wide-range of children’s literature of all kinds, and I still remember lying on the little, padded bench, tucked in a small nook under the cabinets of our converted library space, my nose in a book that I had taken from one of the shelves. I read all kinds of books growing up, but there has always been something quite special to me about works from the past two centuries or so, which in my opinion at least, were in many ways the golden eras of children’s fiction. So many beloved authors date from those two centuries alone, everything ranging from Edwardian classics like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, to Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and Noel Streatfield’s famous Shoe books. I read and loved all of these books, but there was a particular, almost sub-genre of children’s books, that could be argued to have been well and truly popularized in the Victorian era, of which I was especially fond. These are what I like to call “family stories.” They usually involve large families with multiple siblings, cousins, or other relations, and the narrative typically revolves around each of the individual children, as well as their interactions with each other. Several modern authors who have carried on in this tradition, such as Jeanne Birdsall with her Penderwicks series, and Eleanor Estes’ Moffat family tales. But all of these contemporary novelists continue to draw on the tradition of authors who came before them. Books such as Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Elizabeth Goudge’s Linnets and Valerians, and Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins, along with many, many, more, are just a few such examples. These kinds of books were always ones I gravitated to as a child, and Strawberry Acres transported me back to those simpler times where I took such pleasure in sweet, simple stories.

Strawberry Acres is one of those “forgotten” books by a forgotten author. Grace S. Richmond was a popular author in her day, but she gradually fell out of fashion and into obscurity. I had never heard of this book or her at all until I stumbled across it while browsing quite by accident. I bought it with only a vague idea of what it was even about, nearly sight unseen, and was pleasantly surprised how much charm it held. True, it bears all the hallmarks of a past age, and of course to modern sensibilities it may seem a bit idealized, and even stereotypical in places. But if one puts those things aside and reads it as a product of its times, what is left is an ultimately quaint, pretty, story about finding love and happiness. And though the characters are young adults rather than children it has a very clean, family-centered narrative that could appeal to young and old. It’s tone and themes are similar to what you might find in the later Anne novels.

The plot is fairly simple. The Lane family are city people, but after they are plunged into impoverished gentility upon the death of their parents, everything changes, and Sally, the oldest and only daughter, must find a way to keep the family together as her brothers all go out to work. But just as they have come to accept their new way of living, in a reversal of fortune, they inherit from a relation a beautiful country property. Despite the rough shape the house is in when they arrive, Sally is immediately charmed and inspired by its potential. With the help of their friends, including shy, bookish, Jarvis Burnside, (who has always carried a candle for Sally), and his incorrigible sister Josephine, Sally’s ardent wish to live there is granted. Together, the siblings seek to make a new life for themselves.

This book just feels like it belongs in the Cottagecore movement to me. Everything is so pastoral and the beauty of farm and country ways are likewise romanticized, complete with lyrical descriptions of the joys of camping, small “rustic” social gatherings, and of course, strawberry picking. But despite all of this, it doesn’t feel annoying. In fact, it made me want to move into a twee little cottage and start gardening. (Though sadly, I am sorely lacking a green thumb!) This book delivered on exactly what I was expecting: an escape from the harsh realities of what has been going on around us all, in the last two years in particular. Much like the Cottagecore trend that is so reminiscent of these kinds of books, Strawberry Acres‘ strength lies in how Richmond paints such delightful vignettes for us, offering us all an escape, and an alternative lifestyle, where we aren’t all measuring out every hour of every day. One where we can stop and appreciate the little things.

I only anticipate that books that fall into this genre will probably grow ever more in popularity, especially in a post-COVID world, as more and more people become disillusioned with the “rat race,” and allured by the promise of a simpler life more connected to nature. This story would no doubt appeal to just about anyone who likes an old-fashioned tale no matter their age.

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