Since I started this blog and began to receive your comments, I’ve wondered, what is it about age ten that starts so many girls on Emilie Loring?
“My mom got me hooked on Emilie Lorings- giving me my first when I was 10.” Katie
“I began reading Emilie Loring around the age of 10, and spent the remaining of my school years scouring used book stores looking for “new” stories.” Vanessa
“I began reading Emilie Loring when I was about 10 as well. I read and reread them over the years.” Deborah
An episode of CBS’s Invention Nation sparked an answer. The episode asked where Barbie dolls got their name (answer: the inventor’s daughter), but it was the back-story that caught my attention.
“The inspiration for Barbie came as Ruth watched her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls. Barbara and her friends used them to play adult or teenage make-believe, imagining roles as college students, cheerleaders and adults with careers. Ruth immediately recognized that experimenting with the future from a safe distance through pretend play was an important part of growing up.”
“Experimenting with the future.” Of course.
Through books and play, children imagine themselves to be someone–or somewhere–that they are not. Tom Terrific and I foiled Crabby Appleton, and I imagined myself on horseback like Dale Evans (even though mine was a bike). When I first read The Bobbsey Twins, I identified with Flossie and Freddie. As I grew older, Nan and Bert seemed more like me, and Nancy Drew was even better, because she figured things out on her own.
“I have solved some mysteries, I’ll admit, and I enjoy it, but I’m sure there are many other girls who could do the same.” Nancy’s Mysterious Letter
Like many of you, my friends and I played “house” and “school.” We kids were the parents and teachers and took care of our doll children. In a pinch, stuffed animals filled in as extra family members. It was the stuff of which happy childhoods are made. But between my pre-teens and real parenthood, there had to be something else, and that’s where Barbie came in — also Emilie Loring.
Barbie is blamed for a host of societal ills related to unrealistic goals and expectations, and I understand that. But I was in the third grade, eight years old, when I got my Barbie. I didn’t care about her figure. Remember, I’d been using a stuffed Bugs Bunny as a “boy;” the details of “figure” were clearly not essential to my play.
What I liked was how small and portable she was. I could fit her entire wardrobe (hand-sewn by my mother) into a small suitcase. Her scale made my imaginary scenes bigger. No longer limited to a nursery or classroom, the floor by my bed could be an entire town; the bed could be mountains. Barbie wore a formal for fancy nights and a straw hat for picnics. Barbie did things, and her outfits showed that she was prepared for them.
We had “The Barbie Game” at our house, too. The goal of the game was to get a dress and a date to go to the prom, and there were school activities, social events, and more dates along the way. It was the stuff of the times, and that’s what made it fun, especially in a family of all girls. I usually tried for the white dress with the red velvet bodice, but “Solo in the Spotlight” was hard to ignore.
These days, a pair of nice jeans can take you to church, school, a friends’ house for coffee, and into the garden for light chores. Back then, though, we dressed for each event. I wore a dress to school, added a round doily and white gloves for church, and changed to actual “play clothes” when I wanted to play. Membership in the Rainbow Girls added formals and long gloves to my closet, and my college-age sister handed down sophisticated dresses and slippery nighties. (Oh my! I never thought about this before: My sister’s name is Barbie!)
Two years went by, and my sister Judy felt she was too old for playing dolls. We went to my grandmother’s lake home for the summer, and Judy bought a book at the dime store downtown. We always needed books at Grandma’s, because she imposed an hour-long “rest” after lunch during which we must be quiet in our room. We could sleep, or we could read, and we always chose reading.
We took the train home that summer, and on the long ride from Chicago to Flagstaff, I read through all of my Casper and Little Dot comic books. Judy gave me her book to read–my first Emilie Loring at age ten–and although it had no pictures beyond the colored cover, it was instantly an adventure.
There were two-story homes, lovely gardens, and fancy manners. As Patti Bender, I might have felt out of place, but as Ann Jerome, it felt natural and pleasant. The finer points of romance probably passed me by, but I was intrigued by the slide rule she found. I didn’t know how to use one yet, but it seemed neat to have one in a leather case.
My next Emilie Loring books introduced me to Maine. I grew up in the desert southwest and spent summers in Wisconsin. I hadn’t yet experienced Maine’s rocky shore, briny kelp, and stalwart lighthouses, but Emilie Loring described them so well that they felt like experience.
I suppose it’s natural to always look ahead to the next thing. Playing Barbies let me explore what it might be like to be an older girl. Emilie Loring’s stories showed me that even more might be possible for a young woman.
Maybe I could have my own boat, raise herbs for a living, travel to Alaska, be a commercial artist, and play a respectable game of tennis. I made mental notes of her fashion choices: wool plaid skirt and matching green cardigan for day, shimmering gowns for evening, sleek suit and cap for the beach, and a fetching frock for the local flower show. I repeated her words to myself:
“I still believe that the beautiful things of life are as real as the ugly things of life.”
“Leg over leg, the dog went to Dover.”
For me, the magical thing is that Emilie Loring books keep showing me the “next thing.”
At ten, the boys I knew still pulled my hair and chased me on the playground. I had no experience to relate to dating, but I tucked scenes away for future reference.
By high school, I had internalized the values of Emilie’s characters. I wanted to avoid cheapness and gossip, be nice to everyone, exude cheerfulness, and excel at whatever I undertook.
When girls in college stressed about finding “Mr. Right,” I felt no pressure. Emilie’s characters were in their mid-twenties when they found romance, and they had all done some living on their own first.
When I was immersed in raising children and developing my career, Emilie Loring reminded me to contribute to my community and also find time for myself.
Now that I am retired, Emilie Loring reminds me to ignore age, seek excellence, and experience life vibrantly.
Emilie Loring’s stories attract, inspire, and encourage, and that’s helpful at any age. They always make one’s world seem a little bigger and more interesting, one’s next goals valuable and worth pursuing.
I’m glad that I discovered Emilie Loring at age ten. It’s been nice to have her in my corner all these years.