DO NOT READ THIS BOOK TO CHILDREN!
That’s my main take-away from Miss Hickory.
I would really like to sum up my review in three words: what Kindertrauma said. Because there’s this awesome blog called Kindertrauma: Your Happy Childhood Ends Here, and their reviewer expresses every single thought that went through my mind as I read this book, including the swearing in the final paragraph of their review.
Based on the number of online lesson plans I’ve seen on Miss Hickory, I assume this book is still being taught in elementary schools, and all I can say is that I am sorry for those poor children whose innocent childhoods are about to end.
If you don’t want to know what happens at the end of Miss Hickory, stop reading right now.
Even without the horrifying ending, it’s a super weird story. I’m not sure a little twig doll with a hickory nut for a head makes the most expressive or interesting main character in the first place, and Miss Hickory doesn’t make up for her unprepossessing exterior with a winning personality. She’s hard-headed (naturally), persnickety, a total know-it-all, and a scold. The plot is very thin: Miss Hickory loses her house for winter and must find a new one. But that’s basically resolved in a chapter or two, and then you still have 100 pages to read. Bailey fills all those chapters with introductions to many of the animals who live around Miss Hickory. The plot has an episodic structure that manages to become tedious well before the end of the book. You turn a page and see a sketch of a frog, so you know this will be the chapter about the frog. You turn a page and see a sketch of a fawn, so you know this will be the chapter about the fawn. Miss Hickory barely appears in some of the chapters, which makes the book feel disjointed and random.
Before the final weirdness, there are three other big weirdnesses. There is the chapter where the bullfrog sheds and eats his skin. WHY, Lord, WHY? At least Miss Hickory watches that particular episode, so there is a connection to the main story, thin as it is.
Then there is the chapter where the baby fawn gets orphaned. The whole scene really drags on at length so that readers can flinch and cringe for pages as we guess what’s about to happen to poor Mama Doe. (Shot by hunters! BOOM!) The fawn doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, and Miss Hickory has almost nothing to do with this chapter, so I have no idea why the fawn’s story is even in the book, except that Carol Sherwin Bailey wanted to traumatize as many children as possible.
Then there is the Christmas miracle chapter where Squirrel tries to get Miss Hickory to come to the barn with him to witness the annual miracle, only she’s too hard-headed and suspicious to do anything anyone else suggests, so she tells him to stop lying and stomps off. The miracle? An impression of a baby’s head and body appears in some hay. Every Christmas, apparently. And ta-da! Miracle! Oh yeah, and also all the dead animals show up, so there’s Doe hanging out with Fawn. Twist those heartstrings, Carol Sherwin Bailey. Make your reader think about the ghosts of dead mamas.
But nothing, nothing, is so awful as the ending of Miss Hickory.
She’s kind of been battling with Squirrel off and on throughout the story. Squirrel tries to help her a couple of times, but Miss Hickory doesn’t trust him and mostly just insults him repeatedly. And so, at the very end of the story, HE POPS HER HEAD OFF AND EATS IT. AND THERE IS A PICTURE OF IT:
As if that’s not enough, the headless Miss Hickory then races out of Squirrel’s hole and runs off, terrorizing all the other animals who see her, as well as the many thousands of readers who have to imagine the headless twig careening through the forest. She climbs an apple tree, settles into a hollow, and then somehow sprouts into a branch where, we learn, she will eventually produce apples.
I will say that Miss Hickory has inspired some lovely crafts projects, including this cute doll from Illustrated Miscellany. It’s way cuter than anything in the book itself.