Thursday, November 24, 2016

Book Review: The Davenports Are at Dinner (1948) and The Davenports and Cherry Pie (1949) by Alice Dalgliesh

The Davenports are at Dinner and The Davenports and Cherry Pie are two charming titles from the 1940s, which were written by three-time Newbery honoree Alice Dalgliesh and illustrated by Flavia Gag (sister of Wanda Gag of Millions of Cats fame.) In the first book, the Davenport children (John, Barbara, Kathy, and Ricky)  are nervous about how their new stepmother and her daughter, Lyn, will fit into their family. To add to their stress, the family is about to lose its beloved home due to financial difficulties. To help ease some of the financial burden, Kathy suggests that the family star in a nightly radio program where they gather around the table to sing and chat about the day's events.  In the second book, the family has lost its home and now lives in a barn. When a family friend entrusts the children to look after her poodle, Cherry Pie, everyone in the barn falls in love with the dog, and it becomes more and more difficult to think of giving her up. In the meantime, the radio show's success leads to a potential television deal for the Davenports.

Kirkus Reviews was not very kind to these books when they were first published, but what the reviewers deemed flaws were some of the very reasons I enjoyed the Davenports so much. In its 1948 review of The Davenports Are at Dinner, Kirkus calls the characters "a bit too noble"  and claims "they take even their hard luck too gallantly." The reviewer does not seem to believe in the characters, and the review basically just mocks the book's sincerity and seems appalled by the notion that the entire family gets along. I, however, found these characters totally believable and even refreshing in their positivity and willingness to move forward despite difficulties. It isn't as though the family has a choice, after all, and their resilience provides a great opportunity for kids to see that material possessions are not the key to happiness, and that it is possible to be happy with whatever lot one is given in life.  

Kirkus seemed to like The Davenports and Cherry Pie a bit better, but even this review makes it sound as though the only reason kids would be interested in this book is because they can live vicariously through the characters' experiences starring on television. I had no idea children's literature critics were already so cynical about childhood way back in the 1940s! I personally would have loved these books as a kid, because I found most sources of conflict troubling, and gravitated toward happy-go-lucky stories about big families. The Davenports books remind me a lot of books by Carolyn Haywood, Johanna Hurwitz, and Beverly Cleary, who depict mostly happy childhoods and handle difficulties gently and with great hope and heart. 

These books are not mentioned very much in articles about Alice Dalgliesh, presumably because they have been overshadowed by her more successful works and because they now seem so dated. Still, I think it's worth tracking them down if you can and sharing them with kids who enjoy sweet family stories. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing these titles. I love finding little-known stories by beloved authors.

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