Friday, February 1, 2013

The Crystal Palace: The Diary of Lily Hicks, London 1850-1851 by Frances Mary Hendry

Noteworthy Exhibition, Noteworthy Book (Girls Week)

In continuation of “Girls Week” I want to recommend The Crystal Palace by Frances Mary Hendry. When I first learned about the “Crystal Palace” in one of my gardening books, I was fascinated.  The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure held together with cast iron, built for The Great Exhibition of 1851.  This World’s Fair exhibition hall was a temporary building. It had 293,000 panes of glass and took 2,000 men eight months to complete. It was a conservatory on steroids! Over 6,000,000 people visited it! And what’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that this grand glass structure was only on display for six months before it was disassembled and relocated at the end of the fair, only to burn to the ground in later years.

I was intrigued and I wanted to know more. I looked for books about it, but one of the few books I could find that didn’t seem daunting was this Scholastic kids’ book, The Crystal Palace: The Diary of Lily Hicks, London 1850-1851.  Well I bought it and what I got was a “two-fer”—two for the price of one. This book chronicled not only the building of The Crystal Palace, but also the life of a fourteen-year-old housemaid in mid-nineteenth century London.  I found it charming and revealing.  In this novel, Lily becomes a housemaid in the home of Joseph Paxton, the man who designed The Crystal Palace.  Lily learns the great building was fabricated to present the newest products of the capitalist economy, accompanied by exotic displays, fauna and flora.  When Lily later gets to see it inside, she compares it to being inside a diamond or a fairy palace. 

As Lily tracks the progress of the magnificent building, she also deals with the social hierarchy of London society and her role and responsibilities as a member of the household staff.  We learn about her other reality, her own poor family living in the slums. On the one hand this book gives a glimpse into the opulent world of the well-to-do, and then flips and shows us the restricted and sometimes tragic world of the lower class.  Naturally, since it’s geared toward the younger crowd, it’s a quick and easy read. But it’s also surprisingly enjoyable and informative.  Don’t pass it up.

Fun Fact: Souvenirs of The Great Exhibition included pictures of Prince Albert and The Crystal Palace. Visitors could buy gloves with maps printed on them so they could wear them and find their way around the exhibition.  There were also mugs with pictures, tin candy containers, soap boxes, and more.

Happy reading,

What about you?  What kids’ books have you enjoyed reading as an adult? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer

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  1. I love books like this, I can't wait to read it!

  2. My favorite kid's book is " The secret garden" I could really picture the garden , the Roses and the kids playing in it. Other
    then that I love fairy tailes, all of them. And i enjoyed
    Hans Christian Anderson's Biography book.