Chapters 1-3

Adapted for English Language Learners



     "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," complained Jo, lying on the rug.

     "It's so awful to be poor!" answered Meg, looking down at her old dress.

     "I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy.

     "We've got Father and Mother, and each other," said Beth quietly.

     The four young faces smiled at the cheerful words. But then Jo said sadly, "We haven't got Father, and we will not have him for a long time."  Father was far away fighting in the American Civil War.

     Nobody spoke for a minute. Then Meg said, "You know the reason Mother said we should not have any presents this Christmas. It is going to be a hard winter for everyone. She thinks we shouldn't spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the war." 

     "But I don't think the little we would spend would hurt anything," replied Jo. "We each have a dollar, and that would not help the army very much. Mother wouldn't want us to give up everything! Let's have a little fun, at least. We sure work hard enough to deserve some fun!"

     "I know I work hard!" began Meg. "Teaching those horrible children all day is awful.”

     "You don't have half as much work as I do," said Jo. "How would you like to be shut up for hours with a nervous old lady. She keeps you running all day and is never happy!"

     "It's wrong to complain, but washing dishes and cleaning the house is the worst work in the world." said Beth with a sigh.

     "I don't believe any of you suffer as I do," cried Amy. “You don't have to go to school with rich girls who laugh at your dresses and insult you if your father isn't rich."

     "Don't you wish we had the money Papa lost when we were little? How happy we would be, if we had no worries!" said Meg, who was old enough to remember better times.

     As the girls chatted on, the December snow fell quietly outside their warm little home. Margaret, or Meg, the oldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty. Fifteen-year-old Jo was very tall and thin, and reminded one of a colt (baby horse). She never knew what to do with her long arms and legs. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty. Elizabeth, or Beth, was a bright-eyed girl of thirteen—shy, but peaceful. Amy, the youngest, was a real beauty, with blue eyes, and beautiful yellow hair. 

     The clock struck six.  It meant that Mother would be home soon. Jo got up to hold her mother's slippers near the fire to warm them. "They are so old," said Jo sadly.  "Marmee," (the name they called their mother) "should have a new pair." 

     "I think I'll get her a new pair with my dollar," said Beth.

     "No, I will!" cried Amy.

     "I'm the oldest," began Meg.  But Jo cut in and said, "I'm the man of the family now while Papa is away, and I will buy the slippers! Papa told ME to take special care of Mother while he was gone."

     "I'll tell you what we'll do," said Beth, "let's each get her something for Christmas, and not get anything for ourselves."

     "Glad to find you so merry, my girls," said a happy voice at the door. 

     Mrs. March took off her wet things, put her warm slippers on, and sat down in the chair to enjoy the happiest hour of her day. She then said, “I have a surprise for you after supper."

     A quick, bright smile went around the room like a ray of sunshine. Beth clapped her hands, "A letter! A letter! A letter from Father!"

     "Yes, a nice long letter." said Mrs. March.

     "When will he come home, Marmee?" asked Beth, with a little shake in her voice.

     "Not for many months, dear. Now come and hear the letter."

     Mother sat in a big chair with Beth at her feet, Meg and Amy sitting on either arm of the chair, and Jo leaning on the back. It was a cheerful, hopeful letter, full of descriptions about army life.  The letter ended:  "Give my dear love and a kiss to all my girls. Tell them I think of them by day, pray for them by night, and find my best comfort in their love. A year seems a very long time to wait before I see them, but remind them that while we wait we may all work hard, so that these days are not wasted. I know they will remember all I write to them so that when I come back I may be prouder than ever of my little women.

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Jo was the first to wake up Christmas morning. Next was Meg. "Where's Mother?" she asked, as she and Jo ran downstairs to find her.

     "Goodness only knows where your mother is," replied Hannah, who had lived with the family and was more a friend than the cook. "Some poor person came begging and your Ma went to see what the family needed.  

     "She will be back soon, I'm sure,” said Meg, "so let's get everything ready." She then looked over the presents in the small basket for their mother. 

     "There's Mother! Hide the basket, quick!" cried Jo, as a door closed and steps sounded in the hall.

     "Merry Christmas, Marmee!" they all shouted happily.  

     "Merry Christmas, little daughters!  Before we sit down I need to tell you something. Not far away from us there is a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing. They have nothing to eat. Will you give them your breakfasts for a Christmas present?"

     The girls were all very hungry. For a minute no one spoke. "May I help carry our food to the poor children?" asked Beth quietly.  "I will take the cream and the muffins," added Amy heroically (like a hero). Meg was already putting the bread into one big plate. “I’ll carry some wood for a fire!” added Jo.

     "I thought you would do it," said Mrs. March, smiling. 

     When they arrived at the hut it was a miserable (very poor and unpleasant) room with broken windows, no fire, a sick mother, a crying baby, and a group of hungry children trying to keep warm. Hannah, who brought wood, made a fire. Mrs. March gave the mother tea and oatmeal. The girls fed the children, laughing, talking, and trying to understand them.  They were German and spoke very little English. It was a very happy breakfast, even though they didn't get any of it! But the happiest part was still to come—giving mother their presents. Mrs. March smiled with all her heart as she looked at her them. 

     The rest of the day was spent playing theater. They were too poor to buy tickets to a Christmas concert, but they weren't too poor to make up their own concert!  It was not until the end of the day that Marmee stood up and said, "Now I have a surprise for my little women!" She then led them to the dining room and opened the door. The girls were in shock when they saw the table! Where had mother gotten these things? There was ice cream, actually two dishes of it, pink and white, and four great bouquets of flowers.  Such things had not been seen since the start of the war.  They stared first at the table and then at their mother, who, at that moment, was the happiest mother on earth.

    "Did fairies bring it?" asked little Amy.

     "Old Mr. Laurence sent it," replied Mrs. March.

     "What put such an idea into his head? We don't even know him!" exclaimed Meg.

     "Hannah told one of his servants about your breakfast gift. It touched him and he wanted to do something for you in return. "I never saw such a beautiful bouquet before! How wonderful it is!" exclaimed Meg.

     "I wish we could send the flowers to Father. I'm afraid he isn't having such a merry Christmas as we are," added Beth softly.

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"Jo! Jo! Where are you?" cried Meg.  Meg found her sister eating apples and crying over a sad book, sitting by the sunny window. This was Jo's favorite place.

     "Look! We have an invitation from Mrs.Gardiner for tomorrow night!" cried Meg. “It says: Mrs. Gardiner would be happy to see Miss Meg and Miss Josephine at a little dance on New Year's Eve"

     "I don't care about dancing! It's no fun. What's more, I don't have a dress," answered Jo.

     "You have to come, Jo!  I can't go alone. Only be good, promise? Don't stare at people, or say Christopher Columbus! O.K.?"

     "Don't worry about me. But leave me alone and let me finish my book!"

     At last the night arrived. "Have a good time, dearies!" said Mrs. March, as the sisters went down the street trying very hard to look like ladies. "Don't eat too much and leave at eleven when I send Hannah for you. And, Jo, no winking! It isn't ladylike."

     Mrs. Gardiner greeted them and told them to go find her daughter.  Meg knew Sallie and so they quickly began talking about everyone at the party. But Jo, who didn't like gossip, stood all alone. Some boys were talking about skating in another part of the room. She loved skating. But it would not be proper to go over and talk to them.  

     Meg was asked to dance at once. Jo saw a boy coming toward her and ran into another room and hid behind the curtains. But as the curtain fell behind her, she found herself face to face with the Laurence boy. “Oh, no! I didn't know anyone was here!” said Jo very embarrassed. But the boy laughed. "Stay if you like."

    "Will I disturb you?"

    "Not a bit.” The Laurence boy wasn't sure what to say next and so he said, "How is your cat, Miss March?"

     "Fine, thank you, Mr. Laurence. But I am not Miss March, I'm only Jo."

     "I'm not Mr. Laurence, I'm only Laurie."

     "Laurie Laurence, what a funny name!"

     "My first name is Theodore, but I don't like it. Then my friends called me Dora. But I hated that and so I made them call me Laurie."

     "I hate my name, too," replied Jo. "I wish every one would call me Jo and not Josephine. How did you make the boys stop calling you Dora?"

     "I hit them."

      "Unfortunately, I can't hit Aunt March, so I suppose I will have to endure Josephine. Can you speak French?"

     "Oui, mademoiselle. But I want to live in Italy. Would you like to dance?"

     "I can't. I mean, I told Meg I wouldn't, because . . ." Jo stopped, trying to decide whether to tell Laurie the truth.

     "Because of what?"

     "You won't tell?"


     "Well, I have a bad habit of standing too close to the fire, and so I burned my dress. You may laugh, if you want to. It's funny, I know."

     But Laurie didn't laugh. He only looked down a minute.  Then he said, "Never mind. I'll tell you what we can do. There's a long hall where we can dance.  No one will see us!"

     Jo thanked him and gladly went. The hall was empty.  Laurie danced very well, and taught her how to dance. When the music stopped, they sat down on the stairs.  Jo laughed and said, "I don't believe those rich young girls are enjoying themselves more than me!  Thank you so much, Laurie!”

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Chapters 4-6

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