Martha Finley's Elsie Dinsmore series
Book review by Cathy Friend
Ages 8 - 14
Set in the mid eighteen hundreds, the Elsie Dinsmore series follows a young girl named Elsie as she grows in strength of character and Godliness.
Initially she is 8 years old, a Christian in a house full of distant relatives who practice church rather than the out workings of it. Her mother died a week after she was born and her father, Horace Jr., only 17 at the time, was quite content to leave her with his dead wife's guardian and act as if she'd never been born.
When the guardian dies and Elsie comes to live with Horace's father and mother-in-law however, it is only a matter of time until he must come home and take her as his own.
When I was a young girl, I struggled as all Christians do with how to live life as a Christian and glorify God. One of the book series that spoke to me was the Life of Faith books by Martha Finley, and the Elsie Dinsmore series is one of the best. It's well written and incorporates a myriad of Christian themes without coming off as corny or boring.
Elsie Dinsmore is a wonderful character. She is the epitome of what a Christian girl should be, and her strength of character in situations no person should have to face brings me to tears every time I read it.
I'm nearly 18, and I still bawl like I did when I was 12.
Each time she felt pain, so did I, because it was almost always due to a sense of sin, or failure to do something she thought God wanted her to, and it was such an accurate depiction of how I always felt about myself that when she would remember God's grace for her it would hit me too.
Moreover, the supporting characters - her father, her aunts and uncles (some of which are younger than her which make for some interesting encounters), her friend Rose, her father's friend Edward, her grandparents, and of course Chloe, her middle-aged slave/mother figure, all play important roles in shaping her life, with Elsie playing equally important roles in theirs.
The fact that each character is well rounded and important mirrors real life in a way that adds a much greater depth to the stories.
Being set about 20 years prior to the American Civil War, one of the recurring themes of the series is the notion of slavery.
As Elsie grows older, we see her engage with this harsh reality and come to terms with the society she's been born into. Martha Finley also has other series; while the Elsie series struggles how to be a Christian when surrounded by slavery, the Millie series explores how slavery was seen by Northerners, and Laylie's book introduces us to a slave girl who comes to terms with God's goodness within the world she's been born into.
The progression of the series was also lovely to see. As I mentioned earlier, Elsie is only 8 years old when we first meet her, but by the time book 8 comes around she's in her mid 40's at least. This means that the stories explore not only what it means to be a Christian girl, but also what it means when you're a teenager, and when you're and adult and married and have children yourself.
It gets girls looking ahead without being frightened or apprehensive for the future, as well as providing excellent role models for Godly living.
I cannot recommend the Elsie Dinsmore series enough. Especially since, as I mentioned earlier, Martha Finley also wrote the Millie series, the Violet series, the standalone book about Laylie, and the Kathleen series. They are all wonderful, poignant, reflective books, and those are three adjectives coming from a girl who usually passes Christian fiction off as corny and "try-hard" literature, not as something that can make you cry. For Christian books for girls any age from 8, these are at the very top of my list.
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