When I was growing up, I read countless books, my mother usually having to pry them out of my hands at the dinner table. I’d wager that most of those books were excellent in one way or another, so I’m not sure exactly why Look Through My Window (Jean Little, 1970) is one of the most memorable for me all these years later.
My battered paperback copy still sits on my bookshelf with a couple of other childhood favorites, and I have re-read it many times over the years.
The gist of the story? Emily’s quiet, predictable only-child existence is turned upside down when her father gets a new job in the town where he grew up. Emily, a budding poet, begins a poem about her quiet life one afternoon just before her parents deliver the news:
When I wake up
I always know
What I’ll do
And where I’ll go
Whom I’ll see
And what we’ll say
And who I’ll be
The whole long day.
By day’s end, all of that has changed, and Emily ends her poem very differently than she had expected.
Soon, she and her parents leave behind their neat apartment in the city for a once-grand, now-decrepit and unoccupied old house that her father loved as a boy. He bought the huge old house on impulse without consulting Emily’s mother; they need the space, he tells her apologetically, for Emily’s four rambunctious young cousins, who are moving in with the family while their mother is ill.
Emily’s new, much wilder family landscape makes up one thread of the story; the other follows her evolving friendship with two completely opposite girls whose secret writing club met in the abandoned old house before her family arrived. The three girls’ passion for words bring them together, and Emily becomes especially close to Kate, a gruff, fiercely independent girl who doesn’t know how to react to the easy-going affection she sees at Emily’s house.
Another thread touches on Emily trying to sort out age-old questions about religion and the preconceived notions that come with it – Kate is Jewish (by birth only), Emily’s family is Protestant, and her cousins are Catholic.
I’ve tried my hand at writing a kids’ novel over the past few years, and one of my oldest friends asked me a question she heard someone ask a “real” author at a reading: ‘Do you have someone in mind when you’re writing your books?’ Though I’ve always considered the story I’ve written to be for my daughter first and foremost, when the question was put to me, I found myself thinking back to Look Through My Window; I realized that I tried to write the sort of book that my younger self would have wanted to read.
What I loved in Jean Little’s story was the warmth and chaos of the big family that Emily became a part of so suddenly (I had three much older siblings who left home for college by the time I was 9); her friendship with someone so different and the obstacles they had to get past together (not unlike my best friend and me); the rambling, charming old house (a character in and of itself); and the quirky supporting characters (including a prickly old neighbor who does not like to reveal her mushy center). I have no doubt that all of those elements played a part in the story I decided to write all these years later.
For much more detail on Look Through My Window, check out this blog entry at Kidliterate that I came across (while searching for info about where I could send you to buy the book if I enticed you with this post).
This blogger goes into much more detail and includes some of the illustrations by Joan Sandin that I have never forgotten. I agree with all of the reasons the Kidliterate blogger gives to explain her love of the book, and I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to go and look at the illustrations and read her review.
My online search confirmed what I had feared: My childhood favorite is out of print, and kids in my daughter’s generation will encounter it only if their parents are also sentimental book savers or are motivated to search out old copies online.