A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin's Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant.
Here's another novel I've latched on to again for nostalgic purposes. I remember Sara's story hitting me hard when I was younger, and it was no different this time. I'd come away from the book vowing to become a better person; a more loving and generous person like Sara, with the qualities of a princess. Obviously it never happened, but the sentiment was there.
The story is so amazingly charming, and comes with heavy moral messages and reproach. I love this happening in children's books, but not in an obvious way. In this case, the messages are weaved into the storyline entirely, as though they aren't even there. This has been done so cleverly that it's clear to see how young girls have been influenced by this book.
Sara is such a gorgeous little character that she makes you want to become a better person immediately. She helps others, and suffers her turmoils inwardly so as not to make anyone else aware of her unhappiness. To get through these, she uses her imagination to convince herself she is somewhere else, and someone else, entirely, such as a prisoner in the Bastille. This takes her mind off her plight, and also helps those around her. She also adopts the idea of becoming a princess some day, and the looks on her keepers' faces when this happens. Sara realises she can still behave like a princess, despite her circumstances, so maintains her good manners and kindness, which ultimately lead to her well-deserved happy ending.
What I liked best about the novel was the idea that a princess isn't someone incredibly special with royal blood. It's far deeper than that. A princess can be clad entirely in rags, and still have those princess qualities. It's about helping others, and having an impact on their lives; it's about being loving, caring, having a good sense of dignity, considering others, and continuing on despite the obstacles, without allowing others to destroy your happiness. Now, I don't know many people like that. Those people are very rare, and probably should be given a royal title. This realisation was my favourite part of the story.
An absolutely enchanting novel for all ages; I would absolutely recommend either reading this as an adult, or introducing it to a younger person in your life.