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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite de Angeli

TITLE: Thee, Hannah!
PUBLISHER: Herald Press (VA) 
PUBLICATION DATE: January 1, 2000 (first published 1940)
FORMAT: Softcover, 100 pages
GENRE: Juvenile Fiction, Historical Fiction
ISBN: 9780836191066
Nine-year-old Hannah, a Quaker living in Philadelphia just before the Civil War, longs to have some fashionable dresses like other girls but comes to appreciate her heritage and its plain dressing when her family saves the life of a runaway slave.


I read this book aloud to my children.

This book is about a little girl named Hannah, who is a Quaker living in Philadelphia before the time of the Civil War. She always seems to be getting herself into trouble! Gammy Welsh, a neighbour, tells children that “Old Spotty” (which is what she calls Satan) whispers into the ears of children and makes them do bad things.

Hannah looks longingly at her neighbour, Cecily, and wishes that her own bonnet and clothes were fancy like hers. When Cecily lets Hannah borrow her pretty sash, she soils it. Instead of owning up to it and asking someone to help her clean it, she stuffs it into a drawer and hopes that it will go away. At the church service, Hannah is overwrought with guilt when a woman stands and says that someone there has a secret sin and that the person should be sure that the sin will be found out. Of course, it isn’t Hannah whom she is referring to but Hannah feels absolutely sick to her stomach at what she has done. Hannah decides to save her allowance each week until she has enough money to buy a new sash for Cecily. Her mother finds the ruined sash a couple of weeks later and insists that Hannah buy a new sash for Cecily right away to replace it. She is relieved that she is no longer keeping this horrible secret and shows her mother the money that she has been saving up.

On another occasion, Hannah wishes that she had pantalettes under her skirt like Cecily. She finds what she thinks is an old petticoat and cuts it up to make her own pantalettes. It turns out that Hannah has ruined her grandmother’s wedding petticoat! Another time, she pins wildflowers to her bonnet in an effort to make it look pretty but instead the flowers stain it. Yet again, her mother catches Hannah traipsing around with her good shawl over head because Hannah wanted to know what it felt like to have long hair.

It troubles Hannah’s mother that her daughter is so concerned about her looks and material things. They are Quakers, and Hannah’s father is a church elder. Hannah does not seem to appreciate the simple Quaker ways.

At the end of the story, Hannah is walking down the street and a black woman asks her for help because her child is sick and they haven’t any food or water. Hannah gives the loaf cake in her basket to the woman and tells her that she will go home to her parents to get help. Hannah takes her father to the child, and he puts a shawl over the boy’s head and carries him back to their home with the boy’s mother following. The boy’s mother tells Hannah that it was because of her plain bonnet, her Quaker bonnet, that she knew that she could trust her. Finally, Hannah realizes the association between the plain clothes that she wears and what statement she is making about herself and feels proud to be a Quaker.

This book was a bit difficult to read because of the old style of language used, with lots of “thees” and “thys.” What I liked about the book was that it taught us about how the Quakers were instrumental in helping slaves escape through the Underground Railway, and I wish that more of the book would have focused on that. Instead, Hannah comes across as a child who is always wanting what she can’t have! Every time she got into trouble, she was chastised for listening to “Old Spotty.” That really rubbed me the wrong way, and I think that Hannah should have taken responsibility for her own actions instead of her parents blaming “Old Spotty” for her behaviour. Even though Hannah was wrong for hiding Cecily’s ruined sash, she actually showed her true nature when she came up with the idea all on her own to save up her allowance to buy a new one. She did feel horribly for ruining the sash, and she had the intention of replacing it.

I enjoyed parts of the book but, overall, it was “just okay” for me. I was expecting to learn more about the Quakers' involvement with the Underground Railway. For me, there was too much focus on "Old Spotty."

2 stars! Meh, it was just "ok".
This book qualifies as: 


  1. This book sounds so familiar! I think I may have read it back when I was a kid but I'm not sure. I think this book might just go on to my pre 1960's childrens book challenge list! Great review :)
    -Kimberly @ Turning the Pages


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