I have a large collection of children’s books that I have to cull from time to time to make space for new favorites or rediscovered treasures. Some of my books are never up for relocation, however. Newbery award-winning HITTY: Her First Hundred Years written by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop (published in 1929 by MacMillan, my edition is from 1964) is a keeper.
I first read Hitty when I was 8 or 9. I can’t count how many times since then that I have read this book about a tiny wooden doll who writes her memoirs as she travels the world by accident, always with a plucky positivity that makes you both cheer and ache for her. I don’t need to describe Hitty if you’ve already met her, and I don’t want to reveal too much if you haven’t yet. This book is super charming and it’s best if the reader is allowed to relish every observation Hitty makes and relive every adventure she experiences. (If you have already read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, you will recognize many nods to Hitty in retrospect.)
I loved dolls as a kid, still do. I do not love creepy, untouchable, too-lifelike dolls at all. But I adore a well-worn doll like the title character in The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill (and not unlike the slightly tattered blankets I collect). I always hoped I’d find my own special, legendary doll worthy of bringing to a party. One day Hattie (pictured above with the book) arrived by mail. She was a husk doll from Hawaii, a gift from my godfather Clarence who was living on Oahu at the time. Peek inside the book and you’ll see why I was especially thrilled: My Hawaiian Hattie was as close to Hitty as I thought a doll would ever get, right down to the tiny pearls on her wedding gown.
Fast forward to several years ago, when I stumbled across an online article that said (as I recall–I can’t find the original source now–was it a dream?!) that Rachel Field’s homestead in Maine was for sale, virtually intact with original furnishings, etc. because of its remote island location. You can see recent pictures of the place here, it appears to be happily occupied and pretty much intact! (Sadly, there goes my secret dream of perusing the abandoned homestead in search of undiscovered manuscripts, trinkets, and other treasures.) Another website, hittypreble.com, details the real-life inspiration for many elements of the story. As a testament to the character’s charm and the book’s staying power, there are dozens of websites selling Hitty dolls and accessories, swapping stories about collectors’ Hitty dolls, or even holding Hitty meet-ups. You can see the original Hitty doll at the Stockbridge, MA Library Museum.
I don’t have many relics from my childhood because we moved many times. Since I was one of the oldest kids, many of my things were “used up” by my younger siblings, but I am so happy that I managed to keep my Hattie doll safe all these years, and that I was able to find a copy of the book just like the one I loved to shreds when I was younger. If you do read Hitty now, come back and let me know how you found her!