It is 1913 and the protagonist in this novel is ten-year-old Lottie, last seen aged four after first arriving at Miss Minchin’s School for Girls. Sara, the original Little Princess now lives next door to the school and is a confidant to Lottie and her friends. Lottie struggles with the suffocating routines at school and feels abandoned by her perpetually absent father. She has so many questions about her mother who died when she was small but her father refuses to discuss it. Desperately searching for a way to find her place in the world she becomes swept up in the excitement and mystery of the suffragette movement.
The Suffragettes are a forbidden topic of conversation at school and even Sara advises against getting involved. However, Lottie seems naturally drawn to them and soon discovers the secrets her father has been so desperate to keep from her.
Seen through the innocent eyes of Lottie the true extent of what some women went through to be heard is handled with both honesty and sensitivity. Key events from the time feature in the story and offer further learning opportunities.
Published in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018 this wonderful story of empowerment and friendship is a perfect way to introduce young readers to the history of the Suffragettes.
Q & A with Holly Webb
Holly Webb has written over 100 children’s books and we were lucky enough to be able to ask her some questions about the Suffragettes and taking on the task of writing a sequel to another author’s work.
Where did the idea for The Princess and the Suffragette come from and how did you get Involved?
About seven years ago, I had a conversation with my editor about our favourite books from childhood – we had both loved The Secret Garden. It was Zoe’s idea that I should write a sequel, and initially I was horrified! I couldn’t imagine writing someone else’s characters. But I loved the book so much, and the idea hung around, although it took me five years to find the story. Return to the Secret Garden was so much fun to write – I loved going back to Misselthwaite Manor. And then the idea of another sequel to A Little Princess, just crept up on me…
Can you tell us about any of the research you did in to the suffragette movement in preparation for writing this book?
About fifteen years ago there was a wonderful exhibition at the Museum of London on Suffragettes. I wish I’d seen it, but I have the book of the exhibition, The Suffragettes in Pictures by Diane Atkinson, which is fantastic. I also read several other books about the Suffragettes March, Women, March by Lucinda Hawksley was really interesting too. Plus there’s a wealth of information online, so much that it’s easy to get led away for days. There are even newsreels – tragically, you can actually watch the 1913 Derby where Emily Davison walked out in front of the king’s horse, Anmer.
Writing a sequel to a classic like The Little Princess must have been a daunting task, can you give us an idea about how you approached it?
I was slightly more confident than I had been about The Secret Garden – there I left a thirty year gap between the original book and my story, whereas The Princess and the Suffragette begins not long after A Little Princess. I started by reading the original book, and thinking about the characters. I knew I wanted to write about Lottie, but it took me a while to realise that I was going to bring in the Suffragettes.
What made you choose Lottie from the original book as the main character in this one?
When Sara first meets Lottie in A Little Princess, she’s described as “only just four” – and she’s at a boarding school. There’s a huge emphasis on she and Sara being motherless, and Lottie’s father apparently couldn’t cope with having a little daughter. It’s so intriguing. Why didn’t he want her? Why send her away so young?
Was there anything in particular that you struggled with?
Dates! There’s actually (this is where everyone is going to shout at me) a mistake in the original timeline of A Little Princess – Sara is seven when she first comes to Miss Minchin’s, and at one point Frances Hodgson Burnett says that she lives there for ten years – but she’s only thirteen at the end of the book. I spent days trying to solve this! But A Little Princess was actually written three times, as a serialised magazine story in 1887, a play in 1902 and as a book in 1905 – I expect the glitch slipped in somewhere in the middle. It was actually quite helpful, in a way. I wanted my story to start in about 1911, and I didn’t mind picking the dates to suit the story a bit…
This is the second sequel you’ve written to a classic children’s book, are there any others you’d like to explore and create a sequel for?
There are so many other books I love. I’m not planning another sequel at the moment, but mind you, I wasn’t planning to write this one either!
Children reading your book today will have been born nearly a century after The Representation of the People Act, what sort of messages do you hope they will take from The Princess and the Suffragette?
I really hope that Lottie and Sally’s stories will give them some sense of how hard the struggle was – how completely horrifying the idea of women’s suffrage was to so many people, and how few rights women actually had. I found this really shocking as I was researching. We’ve come such a long way, but women are still fighting for equal pay, for better division of childcare and in some countries still for political representation, and even control over their own bodies. It’s an ongoing struggle.
Many thanks to Holly for taking the time to answer our questions.
You can buy the Princess and the Suffragette from Scholastic where (at the time of publishing this post) you also receive a free copy of A Little Princess.
Many thanks to Scholastic for sending a copy of this book for review.
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