Desert Isle Keeper
The Anne of Green Gables Series
When I am cleaning up the kitchen for what seems like the millionth time or coaxing a reluctant child to do her homework, I remind myself that parenting has its perks. Topping the list for me is the joy of introducing my children to books I loved as a little girl. Over twenty years ago my sister and I sat in the back of the family station wagon, driving from New Jersey to California. Some kids may have found such a ride tedious, but not us; the miles flew by as my mother read us “the Anne books.” We’d beg my dad to keep driving until it was almost too dark for my mom to read. Still we’d beg for “just one more chapter.” Early this fall I decided the time was right to start reading these books to my girls, and I’m sure Anne would appreciate the “thrills” I felt when I heard my own girls call from their bunk-beds for “just one more chapter.”
Most people are familiar with the basic premise of the first book. Anne Shirley is a red-haired orphan who comes to live with Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a bachelor and old maid brother/sister pair living in a small town in Prince Edward Island. Anne is the type of character that leaps off the page with amazing clarity. She has an imagination which has helped her through her rough life so far, but she can’t quite imagine away her red hair. She can tolerate being named Anne (rather than the more exciting Cordelia) as long as people remember to spell it with an “e.” She has the propensity for getting into lots of trouble; in the course of the first book she manages to lose her temper at least twice to disastrous effect, dye her hair green, break an ankle walking on a roof, set her best friend drunk, and flavor a cake with “anodyne liniment.” She is an avid student and has a hard-fought rivalry with her nemesis, Gilbert Blythe. Adults and children both can commiserate with her as she makes her many mistakes, and rejoice as she excels in school and becomes a part of a family.
The series follows Anne from the age of eleven through adulthood as she teaches school (Anne of Avonlea) goes to college (Anne of the Island), is engaged to Gilbert Blythe and head mistress of a school (Anne of Windy Poplars) marries Gilbert (Anne’s House of Dreams), and raises a family of her own (Anne of Ingleside, Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside). The later books are lesser known, but all have their charms. Most people never make it through to Rilla, but that’s a favorite of mine. It takes place during World War I, and features Anne’s youngest daughter, who has a romance of her own. There’s a lot of charm to Anne in the last three books, as she’s on the parenting/problem solving end of things.
But even before I read “real” romances, I loved romantic books, which is why Anne of the Island is my favorite. This book features Anne at college. She receives proposals from several quarters, including the man she once thought of as her ideal, but of course, she can only have Gilbert in the end. I have gone on to read many romances, but I can still recite Gilbert’s (second) proposal by heart, because I read it over and over again. Even now I love books about men and women who are friends before they are lovers, and perhaps my appreciation for this type of romance started here.
I think these books are well worth reading even if you don’t have children to read them to. The characters are warm, interesting, and romantic, even if Montgomery always “omits pages” from Anne’s letters to Gilbert whenever they get mushy. There are scores of secondary characters in several towns, all of whom are memorable and real. It’s fun to hear my girls picking up on the grammatical quirks of various characters, whom they love to imitate.
Although these books are my sentimental favorites (and probably the best written of Montgomery’s books), she has several others worth reading. The Emily series is nearly as good, and Pat of Silver Bush is also fun. Anne will always be my favorite though, and I have to admit that I sometimes can’t help wiping a tear away as I hear my two girls beg for “just one more chapter” – and picture two other little girls in a rust-colored station wagon circa 1980, saying exactly the same thing.