By Barbara Doyle
Look Through My Window is a novel by award-winning Canadian author Jean Little, whose numerous works of children’s literature include Mine For Keeps, From Anna, and several titles in the children’s historical series Dear Canada.
Synopsis: Emily Blair is an only child with a predictable life, that is until her aunt takes sick and her four wild cousins, John, James, Jean, and Ann, come to live with her and her parents. At the same time, her banker father is transferred as part of a new job, and, to accommodate the instantly large family, moves them from a city apartment to an 18-room house that has been unoccupied for 11 years, in a small town. Emily, a budding poet, moves into the room in the attic, her very own garret, and finds a locked box with a warning to keep out. She manages to tease a paper out of the box and finds that it is a beautiful, thoughtful poem written by a strange girl named Kate. The story covers the most decidedly unpredictable and wonderful year of Emily’s life as she learns to live with instant, unruly younger siblings and makes, in Kate, her first true and faithful friend.
Why I loved it: Amidst an utterly charming slice-of-life look at a family that is suddenly thrust into chaos, this is a book written about writers. Emily and Kate absorb the world around them and translate it into surprisingly sensitive and insightful poems about family and friendship that still have the power to make me choke up. Emily learns how personality can be shown through words, and how experience can shape the writing, especially when it’s good. She speaks of her writing as first coming easily, and then being hard work, and says about other children, “They wouldn’t understand. They haven’t read the right books.” (Ain’t that the truth, Emily?)
And, oh, their friendship. Emily’s seemingly perfect life and Kate’s stranger and lonelier one end up interweaving such that they learn, by “looking through each other’s windows,” that they’re not so different after all. It is, in a way, a love story, where we see one person’s simple life changing as they discover a new person who complicates everything in the most amazing of ways. Emily and Kate’s friendship made my heart ache with longing as a girl. It still does.
Similar to: E. B. White, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Kate DiCamillo
Why it stands the test of time: Look Through My Window is truly touching, funny and sweet, and holds up tremendously on a re-read. While there are a couple of instances where the language is certainly antiquated (fortunately, the word “Negro” is no longer in popular use), the situations that the words are used in are timeless in the questions they ask and the answers they give. Emily and Kate have conversations with their parents, about their religious differences and discrimination, that are thoughtful and wise and easy enough for even younger kids to understand. The girls learn about how parents love their children differently but that love isn’t always measured in hours spent or habits made. They discover that their own personality differences and varied opinions don’t lessen the friendship they share.
Plus, there is a stray cat named Wilhelmina Shakespeare who births adorable kittens, a funny old neighbor who might be a witch, and a hastily pulled-together Christmas pageant with a terrified teen-aged Belgian as King Herod the Great. What could possibly be more interesting than that?
You can find gently used copies of Look Through My Window on Alibris, starting from $0.99.