The Little Women Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion to Louisa May Allcot's Beloved Classic by Rachel Dodge
In her latest work, The Little Women Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion to Louisa May Alcott’s Beloved Classic (Barbour Books), Rachel Dodge matches a cherished girl’s book with a core concept often overshadowed by feminism and social justice issues. While these ideas are crucial aspects of Little Women, Dodge’s focus on faith and family gets to the heart and foundation of Louisa May Alcott’s story of four sisters coming of age during the Civil War.
Alcott’s references to faith are loosely Christian since the March sisters don’t attend church services or refer specifically to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy do, however, read the little books they received from Marmee at Christmas, “that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived … a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey” (Little Women, Chapter 2). Whether that book was the New Testament or John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress matters little, for the message is the same: staying close to your Heavenly Father each day and leading a life in imitation of Jesus.
A CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER SPIRITUAL REFLECTION
Dodge’s structure is simple. Each chapter summarizes the corresponding chapter of Little Women, where she unveils a spiritual truth. Through her deep and prayerful knowledge of the Bible, Dodge complements and reinforces the lesson with specific stories and verses from scripture. She then reflects on how the reader can personally apply these ideas to her life and ends with a prayer. What results is a beautiful devotional based on the most basic yet profound concepts: one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and how that translates into leading a Christian life, especially within one’s family.
Dodge illustrates spiritual growth through the actions of the March sisters as guided by their wise and practical mother and kind and patient father. Although this book emphasizes the warmer family aspect of Little Women, Dodge does not shy away from Meg’s vanity, Jo’s ferocious temper, Beth’s shyness and Amy’s spoiled behavior. I appreciated Dodge’s focus on Amy’s maturation into a gracious and generous young woman who took the teachings of her guidebook to heart. To most readers, younger Amy’s behavior, particularly in burning Jo’s manuscript, obscures the progress older Amy made in becoming a Godly woman.
AN EXCELLENT COMPANION TO THE ALCOTT CLASSIC FOR TEENS OF FAITH
Dodge’s treatment of Jo with Beth, first trying to figure out Beth’s dreaded secret and then to offer comfort to Beth by being present, is touching while driving home the message Alcott wished to convey of true care and compassion.
Usually, a devotional book should be read on a day-by-day basis, one chapter at a time. I did not have that luxury because I had to review the book. That task completed, I can now go back and reflect on it properly and allow Dodge’s excellent insights to sink in.
For those like myself who enjoy the spiritual aspect of Little Women and want to explore it further, I highly recommend The Little Women Devotional. It would be a particularly worthwhile read for teens of faith after their first exposure to Alcott’s timeless novel.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Q: Who was this book written for? What was your intended audience?
A: The age group for this devotional is pretty wide. It encompasses anyone who loves Little Women, which means there’s a big age range. I’ve written it so that teen and YA readers (and even younger readers if they’re interested) can engage with it, but readers of all ages who are nostalgic for Little Women will easily relate to the Biblical application, personal reflection, prayers and lessons in each entry.
Q: Did you read Little Women as a child? And if so, how has your perspective changed on it as an adult?
A: I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read Little Women because I am a lifelong, repeat reader of all my favorite books. I first read it in junior high, which means my perspective on it has certainly changed over the years. Reading it as a young teen, I completely fell in love with the world of the March family. Like Jo, I wanted the March sisters to stay at home forever. I didn’t really want them to grow up, fall in love or get married. As an adult reader, I see the novel differently now. I appreciate the character development and story arcs. I relate to Jo as that driven, passionate woman who loves to write and work in the creative realm. I understand how Meg feels as a new wife and exhausted mother who always tries to do too much. Most of all, I am enchanted by Marmee. I hope I can be as kind, wise, hard-working and creative as she is. The way she teaches, trains and encourages her children is inspiring.
Q: Who is your favorite March sister and why?
A: My favorite character is definitely Jo. I think I relate to her personally because I have always loved books and writing and acting out my favorite stories. I’m also fiercely loyal and have had to learn how to curb my quick tongue and hot temper. I love how she would go up into the garret to read and eat apples and cry over love stories, and I am inspired by how she would put on her “scribbling suit” and “fall into a vortex” whenever the writing mood hit her. I feel the same way when I’m writing.
As a young girl, it was hard for me to understand why Jo didn’t love Laurie or why she would want to marry the older Professor Bhaer, but as an adult, I like Professor Bhaer and see why he is a better fit for her personality and passions. It’s inspiring to see her so happy and busy at their school for boys by the end of the novel.
Q: How did you figure out how to pair Bible verses with themes from the chapters?
A: Few people ask me about this, and it’s one of my favorite things about writing devotional books! When I plan out a chapter, I sit down with my Bible, a journal and my copy of the novel. I always have my own daily Bible reading and personal prayer time first. Then, I read the chapter of the novel that I’m working with that day. As I read it over and pray through it, there are always certain lines or lessons that really stand out to me from the chapter. From there, I jot down ideas and brainstorm in my journal.
But when it comes to finding the right Bible verses, I honestly have to say that the Lord gives them to me. Whenever I’m praying over a chapter or lesson, the verses pop into my head! I can usually hear them in my head — sometimes a phrase or a word — and then I go look them up. Other times, I’ll be reading my Bible and the Lord will highlight a verse and I’ll make a note for later. I think having studied and read the Bible daily for years and years is how the Holy Spirit is able to bring verses and Bible stories to mind so quickly when I’m in that creative mode and I’m scribbling away on my chapters.
Q: Do you think your book could introduce Little Women to a new audience? How and why?
A: I hope so! Wouldn’t that be a dream? I know from my Anne of Green Gables Devotional that many readers told me they were rereading the novel or reading it for the first time to go along with the devotional. I hope that happens again with this book. Little Women is such a treasure, and it’s still relevant and relatable to readers today. I especially love the idea of friends and family members reading the devotional together and getting together to discuss what they are learning and how God can use anything in our lives — even our favorite books — to speak to us, grow our faith, encourage our hearts and teach us timely lessons!