Sunday, May 15, 2016

Reading Through History: The Mitchells by Hilda van Stockum (1945)

The Mitchells (also called The Mitchells: Five for Victory) is the first of three family stories about fictionalized versions of author Hilda Van Stockum, her husband, their children, and the children's grandmother. The story begins with Father going off to fight in World War II, and the family being left behind in their Washington, D.C. home with very specific instructions not to get a dog. The five Mitchell children  - Joan, Patsy, Peter, Angela, and Timmy - would love a pet, but they are quickly consumed by other interests. Chief among these is their formation of the Victory Club, which meets in the backyard of a house on the street left uninhabited for so long that they call it the "white elephant." Friends Tilly and Dickie join them for club activities, and all kinds of antics ensue, including the acquisition of quite a few pets their father might not be pleased to meet when he returns home.

The writing in this book is breezy and entertaining, making it easy to read in just one sitting. I devoured the story, falling instantly in love with each character, and enjoying their "free-range" lifestyle and typical family story problems. Though this is partly a book about banding together during a time of war, it is also just as much a story about kids being kids that could take place at any time in history. The fact that the characters are based on real-life counterparts makes everything about the book feel true in a way that entirely invented fiction does not. As the mother of an independent-minded two-year-old, I could especially relate to Mother's very true-to-life difficulties in dealing with Angela, the second youngest child with a habit of making a fuss.  By the end of the first chapter, I already felt a strong kinship with Mother, which stuck with me throughout the book.

As I read The Mitchells, I kept thinking back to a childhood favorite, Ten Kids No Pets by Ann M. Martin. The books are not really that similar except for the fact that they both involve parents who specifically disallow pets, but knowing how much I loved Ten Kids makes me certain that I would have loved The Mitchells just as much had I discovered it in childhood. I wish authors still wrote family stories like this one, which avoids discussions of mature themes like dating and kissing and instead allow kids to be kids. So many middle grade books are about trying to reach adulthood as soon as possible, instead of reveling in childhood, and that is just too bad. I am pleased, therefore, that I still have two Mitchells titles to read: Canadian Summer and Friendly Gables.

1 comment:

  1. I've read The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum about the Dutch Resistance in WWII, but nothing else. I'll have to look for this one. You made it sound so interesting, thanks for sharing it.