Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad
I give credit to L. Frank Baum for writing books in which girls have a leading active role (even if not quite what one would hope for over 100 years later). They’re plucky and cute, but also talented and intelligent, and each with distinct personalities. If Uncle John is a little over-genial, I found it fairly easy to forgive.
As Baum notes in the introduction, he drew on his own personal experience to render the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. While his American protagonists are largely concerned with its effect on their own trip, he does give the local characters a chance to express that it’s a little more devastating to them. There’s a fair element of travelogue to the book.
It is, in general, a very American book, if in a well intentioned way. The protagonists succeed because of American ingenuity and derring-do, and the America first tone doesn’t sit quite as well now as it would have back then. To his credit again, Baum doesn’t let the Americans win all the struggles. In fact, the thing that sat least well with me was his description of Tato – a key figure who, while at one point described as roughly the age of the nieces (so, mid-teens), is in virtually all cases treated as a child of perhaps eight or nine. That and one completely unnecessary and jarring use of a slur that doesn’t feel as if it would have fit well even when the book was published.
All in all, harmless, if dated, girls’ adventure.