The LitWits Kit for A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett - LitWits Workshops

A Wake-up Moment

In the middle of the night poor little Sara Crewe, heroine of A Little Princess, wakes up to find her attic bedroom is no longer barren and cold.  Her neighbor, Ram Dass, has transformed her “Bastille cell” while she slept.  She wakes up not only in beauty and comfort, but  realizing someone is helping, someone knows.

This scene transformed my life.

I was seven or eight years old when I first read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 classic, and there were some parts I didn’t understand yet.  But when I got to that scene, I recognized the power and pleasure of being the giver.  Forget being a princess — I wanted to be Ram Dass, right then and there.  I put down the book and, while my mother was in the back yard, I rearranged the living room.  It wasn’t quite the overhaul Ram Dass had given the attic, but Mom seemed authentically delighted, and didn’t move the furniture back for at least two days.  I was caught up in the thrill of  surprise transformation, of being the giver of unexpected joy (or so I imagined).

That was just the beginning.

For the next four decades I made over dozens of spaces while my friends and family were out — — and they were always pleased or kind enough to react as Sara did.  Throughout every project  I’d imagine their happy faces, imagine their lives being changed by the beauty and functionality I’d tried to bring to their homes, basements, gyms, offices, yards, garages, driveways, barns and apartments.  I’m not so sure, looking back, that my efforts were always welcome.  But they never let me see anything but joy.

Encouraged by their responses, I eventually started a design firm, Metaphor Interiors — named so for its literary origins in A Little Princess. For two years I had dream clients who told me what they wanted, then went off to work or on vacation while I changed their homes.  I had carte blanche alone in their homes all day these were truly Ram Dass Deals.  My clients came home excited to see the changes, and applauded whatever I’d done.

I took all that for granted. After all, Sara Crewe had been ecstatically happy with everything that had been done in her absence.  She hadn’t complained about the tapestry threadcount, or asked that nails not be placed in walls.  Of course not. She was just grateful.  Incredibly grateful.

After awhile, I became more aware of the real world of interior design. Then I turned my creative energies, appreciation for sensory immersion, and passion for transformation to this beautiful thing we call LitWits.  Helping kids hear, feel, smell, taste, and see those great moments in books — the moments that change a heroine’s life.  A reader’s life.

Like Sara Crewe’s wake-up moment.

From the LitWits experience of A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson BurnettThis afternoon, watching the kids in our Little Princess workshop transform jam jars with “sooty” burlap and sparkly lace, diamonds and crowns, pearls and a “spread the love” tag, I had my own wake-up moment.  We weren’t just teaching the kids that you can always be “sweet inside” no matter what labels you wear, or how you dress, or whether you’re destined for the “upper crust” or not.  We weren’t just having fun making silly puns about Sara transcending sticky situations, getting into jams with Miss Minchin, and admiring sunsets beyond the window jamb. We weren’t just decorating, and we weren’t just creating a symbol of transformation.

We were sharing a bigger idea — that giving is sweet.

Do you remember a literary wake-up moment that changed your life?  We hope you’ll share it in the Comments!


Happy reading,




Jenny Walicek

  • Blessed

    May 17, 2014 at 8:36 pm Reply

    I love knowing all this about you, Jenny!

    And that WAS a dream job! If you ever took photos of the befores and afters, I would love to see them sometime!

    But I am so glad you are doing “interior designing” that has much longer-lasting effect. The memories and imaginative sparks you are lighting in our kids will likely be around a lot longer than a decorator piece in someone’s living room. : )

  • Jenny

    May 18, 2014 at 6:59 am Reply

    Thank you Lisa — I love that play on “interior designing” — I hadn’t even thought of that! I certainly hope the things we do to inspire a love of literature will last a lifetime, not the 5-10-year lifespan of a room design. Decorating was a path I was compelled to take, and I did my best to make it meaningful by emphasizing the history and personality of the residents, but I knew it wouldn’t last forever. I think the first turn-off was too many hours under flourescent lights in TJ Maxx.

    I do have a portfolio link, buried in the resume link that’s buried on my writing portfolio — it’s definitely buried history now! but you can look if you like: For space reasons it only shows the “afters.” Becky, of course, ,was one of my most gracious early “victims” 😀

    I love working with your beautiful girls… and they need no rearranging, accessorizing, refinishing, or any other embellishments.. xo

  • Becky Kimball

    May 18, 2014 at 11:09 am Reply

    Jenny, I LOVE this, and am particularly, personally grateful that your Ram Dass moment led to me being, more than once, your Sara Crew. You have such a beautiful gift with design, both “interior” and “exterior,” and I’ve loved living in the spaces you’ve created for me and my family just as I loved coming into your room when I was little and basking in its uniquely welcoming and stylish Jennyness. Being able to work with you now in this incredible adventure of LitWits is just… jam on the toast. 🙂

  • Jenny

    May 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm Reply

    I believe I caught you asleep on my armchair more than once, little Becky… but I’m not the princess – YOU are the one who’s always ‘sweet inside’ ! I love walking into ANY room where you are, especially the LitWits classroom. xo

  • callcarol

    May 27, 2014 at 6:56 pm Reply

    Great post, Jenny!

  • Jenny

    May 27, 2014 at 9:26 pm Reply

    Thank you Carol! Whenever you come to my technical rescue I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming — you have transformed so much for us! Very lucky to have you on our team… thanks for reading!

Post a Comment