Tuesday, August 25, 2009


My mother never read Eloise to us when we were children. It was only when I got older that I realized that this children's classic was missing. Considering the size of our library, this was a shocking omission. But after checking it out from the library, I think I may have figured out some reasons that my mother never bought the book. The story was wonderful but Eloise may not be my mother's idea of a good role model.

Kay Thompson's classic story starts with the simple line "I am Eloise. I am six." And from there our narrator takes off on her adventures. Eloise doesn't sit still, ever. If she's not tormenting the staff at the Plaza Hotel, where she lives, she's driving her nanny insane. This is a little girl whose idea of fun is pouring water down the mail shoot and drawing on the walls. She sneaks into weddings, crashes fancy parties, annoys her tutor, and tommy-knocks. She's a regular terror for parents. Sadly for the staff at the Plaza, hers aren't around.

My mother would have hated this character. Eloise is everything that my mother taught us not to be. She is wild and rude and free. And in that, lies her appeal. I've read tons of books with good sweet characters in them. Children who, although they don't always behave, are generally good. Eloise is not that. She's the unruly child that every child wants to be but doesn't get the chance to be. She lives a lifestyle that even now, seems desirable to me. I would love to be able to order room service for every meal and have a maid come in to clean up my house. Eloise has complete freedom and unlimited funds. How could any child not be envious? If I had read this story as a child I would have been entranced by her.

Reading the story as a grown-up makes a huge difference. I still envy some of Eloise's lifestyle but the adult in me bristles at her mischief. I feel sorry for the staff, the nanny, the tutor. I do love the rebellion of the character. The anti-hero of the children's world. I am fascinated and repulsed by this story. Perhaps it is because I was not that mischievous child. Perhaps it is because I've been an adult for too long and know the costs and frustrations involved. What I did love unabashedly about the book was the wonderful illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight uses only a couple colors to create the world of the Plaza and its most famous resident. The entire story is told in black, white and pink. And somehow the images captures both the majesty of the hotel and the chaos that is Eloise.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the story. I like the characters, loved the hotel, envied the lifestyle, and enjoyed the madcap action. But a good part of me had my finger wagging and a tsk tsk on my lips. Love her or hate her, Eloise is a character all her own. And now I know why we never had this book at home.

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