Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Challenge response: Roller Skates

In response to the July challenge, I'll tell you about Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer. First, I have to say that I have an older copy of the book--a hardback edition from 1949 with incredible illustrations by Valenti Angelo. Second, I've read this book twice now and loved it both times, but especially this time around because of these amazing line drawings.

Roller Skates is the story of Lucinda, a little girl who gets to be an "orphan" in New York City while her family travels to Europe. She barely escapes living with her horrible Aunt Emily who has very definite ideas about how girls should behave and lives instead with Miss Peters and Miss Nettie, two single women who treat Lucinda as very much older than her ten years. Lucinda comes and goes as she pleases--mostly on her roller skates.

The book tells of Lucinda's adventures of meeting wonderful people outside of her normal life--people like Patrolman M'Gonegal, Mr. Gilligan the hansom cab driver and his wife, Trinket the little girl Lucinda "borrows" from upstairs, the Princess Zayda to whom Lucinda teaches English, Tony the boy who manages the fruit stand and his Italian family who lives in a basement--people Lucinda would not normally come into contact with were her family home. Roller Skates is a story of freedom and escaping the rules and regulations of growing up--a story of belonging entirely to yourself and skating where you will.

I do love books that tell of a different time--a time when children were safe to run and roam and explore their worlds. The idea of a girl exploring New York City on skates seems unreal in some ways to me--and, in a way, it was unreal in the time it was written too. And that's the timeless appeal of the story--the freedom of this season in Lucinda's life to be just herself. She realizes its uniqueness too, for at the end of the story she realizes "she'd never belong to herself again," never have another summer of being free and being ten years old.

I loved roller skating as a kid--and think I may need to get out my skates!


Sandy D. said...

It's interesting how much the illustrations can add to these books - I don't notice it so much when they're *not* there, but when there are great illustrations - like in "The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" - they really do add something special, that is pretty much missing from most adult fiction (or non-fiction).

Charlotte said...

Did you know there's a sequel? The Year of Jubilo, set in Maine. It is excellent!

Terrell said...

How did I miss out on this web site! I've just discovered it today.

I, too, really enjoyed Roller Skates and think of it often. I wrote about it in a paragraph of a post almost two years ago:
I was amazed that a 70 year old children's book had dealt with the issues Sawyer raised in this book!

I would like to find the sequel!