Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald because of my fond childhood memories of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series. Unfortunately, it failed to live up to my expectations.
When their parents die and they are left in the guardianship of a bachelor uncle, sisters Nancy and Plum are sent to board with the penny-pinching Mrs. Monday and her disagreeable niece Marybelle. Like all of the neglected children left in Mrs. Monday's care, Nancy and Plum are underfed, dressed in little more than rags, and treated harshly while Mrs. Monday lavishes toys, good food, and nice clothes on Marybelle. Nancy and Plum survive by imagining a better life for themselves -- and by a tiny bit of help from outsiders like their teacher, the town librarian, and Mrs. Monday's cowed handyman Old Tom. When life at Mrs. Monday's becomes unbearable, Nancy and Plum run away. They soon discover that they cannot make it in the world on their own . . . but will they be able to find the help they need to end up in a better situation?
I was left vaguely dissatisfied with this story. I imagine that, had I read it as a child, I would have loved it. The characters are stock figures: the plucky heroines, the evil villain, the kind teacher, the quiet old handyman. Morals are dropped in with a rather heavy hand, and the story ends in a predictably happy fashion. Children who enjoy this sort of story will eat this book up, but I found it just a bit flat.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)