Not long ago, my children and I listened to the Little Men audiobook* in the car. It has become a fast favorite in our family and I think, of all the parenting/homeschool books I have ever read, this one is my absolute favorite. That may sound strange since it is just a story and not a parenting book, but it does what only a well written story can do. It instructs the moral imagination of its reader in truth, through narrative, that cuts straight to the heart.
Aunt Jo and her husband, Fritz Bhaer, run a school for their own children, Meg’s children (Jo’s sister), and also for a number of orphaned boys. As the sequel to Little Women, Jo has grown up, outgrown her mischievousness (for the most part), and found her passion and joy in loving and caring for these lost, wayward little men. Jo’s heart is full as she seeks to provide a safe home and an education for these young people. She seeks their good while expecting the best from each of them. The children keep both Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz on their toes with their childhood antics and mischievousness. Aunt Jo can always be relied upon to enjoy the fun, yet both she and Fritz take care to speak a gentle word of truth and wisdom in moments of folly. They seek out ways to instruct the character of the children in right living, so that they may grow up to be honorable men and women.
If I had read this as a child, I would have related to the childhood antics and frolics of the children in the story, as my own children have. They loved to discuss what they would have done as different situations arose. Their imagination was captivated by the play and the mischief of these new friends. Now, as a parent and a homeschooler, I found myself sitting at the feet of Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz, whose wise governing and educating of the children washed over me like a gentle wave. Their example of parental love and care, treating each child as a person worthy of respect, penetrated deeply. It described exactly what Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Children are born persons.” This has had a great impact on how I view my children and how I want to parent and teach them. I want to be Aunt Jo. She seems to have an endless supply of patience, and becomes passionate when she has the opportunity to provide for the needs of her charges in just the right way to suit each person individually. She doesn’t get it perfectly right, but her heart is for the children, and they know it, and develop a peace and contentment because of it.
Because they were loved, the children were not left to themselves. The Bhaers took seriously the responsibility of raising useful, honorable young men, and took pains to not only see to their intellectual needs but also to cultivate the character of the children. They sought to provide an atmosphere in which the children grew to love goodness for goodness sake and to choose to do what is right because it was right. When it was discovered that a theft had occurred in the school, Mr. Bhaer spoke very soberly to the boys,
“I am not going to try to frighten, bribe, or surprise the truth out of you, for every one of you have got a conscience, and know what it is for. Now is the time to undo the wrong done to Tommy, and set yourselves right before us all. I can forgive the yielding to sudden temptation much easier than I can deceit. Don’t add a lie to the theft, but confess frankly, and we will all try to help you make us forget and forgive.”
And when a young newly arrived boy was frightened of being teased by the other boys because he hadn’t learned as much as they,
Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for everyone was glad to give him a “boost” up the ladder of learning.
In addition to developing intellectual and personal virtue, Aunt Jo and Uncle Fritz sought to prepare them for the world that they would soon enter. Their times of climbing trees and fishing in the lake taught them independence while learning to till the ground to reap a harvest and earn money for it, taught them to work hard. And when they didn’t work as they ought, they were allowed to suffer the consequences of idleness.
Jo herself reflects,
“I only want to give these children a home in which they can be taught a few simple things which will help to make life less hard to them when they go out to fight their battles in the world. Honesty, courage, industry, faith in God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves: that is all I try for.”
I leave the last words of this post to dearest Jo and with the encouragement that if you and your children have not read this book, put it on your read-aloud list. You will be glad you did.
As the year draws to a close and the taming of many a wild boy can clearly be seen, Laurie asks Jo,
“What magic did you use, Jo?”
And she simply replies,
“I only loved them, and let them see it.”
*To get the audiobook for $0.99, select “Add Audible book to your purchase for just $0.99” beneath the “Buy now with 1-click” button before purchasing.