This fictional collection of letters from a 12-year-old girl in the small town of Phoenix, N.Y., 1852, to her cousin in Providence, R.I., has plenty of the naive charm we associate with The Good Old Days, When Life Was Simpler. Whether those days really were the halycon time they now seem from the perspective of our electronic, high-tech age of relatice values, or whether they are a product of our desire to believem they were, is as questionable as whether Janet Harder's portrayal of life in Phoenix, circa 1852, is truly accurate or sweetened with nostalgia.
Whichever, the book is entertaining, informative, and refreshing in its frank ingenuousness. Carrie is a good child without being a goody-goody, and her accounts of adventures, her descriptions of daily life, are intriguing, whether they touch on candlemaking, the construction of the Erie Canal, the layout of herb gardens, herbal medicines, fugitive slaves, daguerrotypes, or bug lamps. The characters run a little to stereotypes, and the suspense and emotion to melodrama, but the accounts of small domestic affairs, the little things that made life so different from the way we now live -- and to our eyes, so much more picturesque -- are delightful. Fortunately for readers, Carrie's father is the proprietor of the town's general store, and he tries out on his family all the newly patented gadgets offered for sale. In this way we learn about Magic Lanterns, early lunch boxes, and bust developers.
The book is illustrated with black and white drawings that, although they are less accomplished, do match the text's naivete. A treat for children who are interested in "the way things were back then," this book should also be as refreshing as a long, cold glass of lemonade to those adults thirsty for such now r are things.