Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Miss Hickory lacks the swashbuckling plot lines and magically empowered characters that have become popular in fantasies written in the decades succeeding its publication. Nevertheless, its vivid, authentic voice and appealing illustrations continue to attract readers. It is the only one of the author’s seventy-eight fiction and nonfiction publications for children that is still well known.

The book adds a unique element to the body of fiction featuring toys as protagonists. Unlike stories such as Carlo Collodi’s Le Avventure di Pinocchio (1881-1882; The Adventures of Pinocchio, 1892) and Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), it portrays a toy who neither wishes nor attempts to become “real.” While some may see her transformation into an insensate scion as a negative contrast to Pinocchio’s and the Velveteen Rabbit’s bodily transformations into “real” beings at their stories’ conclusions, Miss Hickory’s sense of inward completeness and personal sufficiency throughout most of the story is a striking contrast to other toy characters’ feelings of anguished inadequacy.

Miss Hickory also contributed to the development of an important character type in children’s literature: the “intelligent spinster.” P. L. Travers initiated the type with Mary Poppins (1934), and the following decades saw the addition of new dimensions to this image of a self-sufficient, mature single woman, including Ellen MacGregor’s Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars (1951) and its sequels and Betty MacDonald’s Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (1947) and its sequels.