Jo’s Journal
Reading Comprehension Activity

Author: Louisa May Alcott

Chapter XXXIII passage: Jo March is on an adventure to New York City in this passage from “Little Women.” She is to be a governess for Mrs. Kirke who runs a boarding house. As Jo arrives, she meets an interesting resident. After reading the passage, students will answer questions on the language and character traits.

Topic(s): Realistic Fiction. Skill(s): Character Traits, Context Clues. Genre(s): Prose

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Little Women is about the four March sisters growing up in the 1800s. In this passage, Jo, or Josephine, March goes to New York to be a governess for Mrs. Kirke, a friend of her mother’s. She writes a letter to her mother and sister about the journey to her new adventure and some of the interesting people she finds in her new home.


    “New York, November.

    “Dear Marmee and Beth,-

    “I’m going to write you a regular volume, for I’ve got heaps to tell, though I’m not a fine young lady traveling on the continent. When I lost sight of father’s dear old face, I felt a trifle blue, and might have shed a briny drop or two, if an Irish lady with four small children, all crying more or less, hadn’t diverted my mind; for I amused myself by dropping gingerbread nuts over the seat every time they opened their mouths to roar.

    “Soon the sun came out, and taking it as a good omen, I cleared up likewise, and enjoyed my journey with all my heart.

    “Mrs. Kirke welcomed me so kindly I felt at home at once, even in that big house full of strangers. She gave me a funny little sky-parlor-all she had; but there is a stove in it, and a nice table in a sunny window, so I can sit here and write whenever I like. A fine view and a church-tower opposite atone for the many stairs, and I took a fancy to my den on the spot. The nursery, where I am to teach and sew, is a pleasant room next Mrs. Kirke’s private parlor, and the two little girls are pretty children,-rather spoilt, I fancy, but they took to me after telling them ‘The Seven Bad Pigs;’ and I’ve no doubt I shall make a model governess.

    “I am to have my meals with the children, if I prefer it to the great table, and for the present I do, for I am bashful, though no one will believe it.

    “‘Now, my dear, make yourself at home,’ said Mrs. K. in her motherly way; ‘I’m on the drive from morning to night, as you may suppose with such a family; but a great anxiety will be off my mind if I know the children are safe with you. My rooms are always open to you, and your own shall be as comfortable as I can make it. There are some pleasant people in the house if you feel sociable, and your evenings are always free. Come to me if anything goes wrong, and be as happy as you can. There’s the tea-bell; I must run and change my cap;’ and off she bustled, leaving me to settle myself in my new nest.

    “As I went downstairs, soon after, I saw something I liked. The flights are very long in this tall house, and as I stood waiting at the head of the third one for a little servant girl to lumber up, I saw a gentleman come along behind her, take the heavy hod of coal out of her hand, carry it all the way up, put it down at a door near by, and walk away, saying, with a kind nod and a foreign accent,-

    “‘It goes better so. The little back is too young to haf such heaviness.’

    “Wasn’t it good of him? I like such things, for, as father says, trifles show character. When I mentioned it to Mrs. K., that evening, she laughed, and said,-

    “‘That must have been Professor Bhaer; he’s always doing things of that sort.’

    “Mrs. K. told me he was from Berlin; very learned and good, but poor as a church-mouse, and gives lessons to support himself and two little orphan nephews whom he is educating here, according to the wishes of his sister, who married an American. Not a very romantic story, but it interested me; and I was glad to hear that Mrs. K. lends him her parlor for some of his scholars. There is a glass door between it and the nursery, and I mean to peep at him, and then I’ll tell you how he looks. He’s almost forty, so it’s no harm, Marmee.

    “After tea and a go-to-bed romp with the little girls, I attacked the big work-basket, and had a quiet evening chatting with my new friend. I shall keep a journal-letter, and send it once a week; so good-night, and more to-morrow.”

Comprehension Questions

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