Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lewis and Clark, brief overview

As Far as the Eye Can Reach: Lewis and Clark’s Westward Quest, Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
(Random House, 2003), pb., 128 pp.
Ages 8-12

This is another of the Landmark Books series. It is good, brief summary of the Lewis and Clark adventure. Some of these can be dull, but this one is well done. It is not as exciting as the historical fiction we have read which incorporates a fictional boy into the story, but it is told well. I feel like my boys have a good overview of this important part of history after reading this book.
Nathan, my 11 year old, read Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West With Lewis and Clark, an account of Lewis and Clark focusing on Lewis’ dog Seaman. It is longer than this book and according to Nathan covered similar material but was more exciting.
We would recommend both books.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy
(1905; various reprints)
Ages 15+

As a boy I saw one of the movie versions of this book and loved it. I then saw the book recommended by some good sources so it was on my “to find” booklist from early on. I have eagerly awaited the time to read it to my boys. Since we have been discussing the French Revolution, the time was now. Early on in the book, however, I realized that this book was not one for reading to my boys just yet. There are great moments of high adventure but there is also a lot of more subtle psychological and emotional elements. I saw that significant stretches would be dull for them and I did not want to read long portions about a wife disdaining her husband, etc. However, the basic story is very compelling.

So, I continued reading the book on my own and then each night gave them a synopsis skipping portions they would not understand but relating the key story line of the adventure and intrigue. My boys loved it and are asking me to read some of the sequels. This manner of ‘reading’ has been fun.

The story is about a daring Englishman who, with his band of loyal followers, risks his life to rescue French nobles from execution during the Reign of Terror. This Englishman refers to himself as the Scarlet Pimpernel and hides his real identity. Apparently this story laid the basis for the idea of mild mannered super heroes who disguise their identity in everyday society. Also though the wife initially disdains her husband we see her folly when she discovers that he is actually the brave and daring Scarlet Pimpernel and the public persona was only a disguise.

The story is a good read. You can find full text of all the stories in this series at Blakeney Manor..


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In the Reign of Terror

In the Reign of Terror, G. A. Henty
(Blackie and Sons, no date), hb., 352 pp.
Ages 7+

This is the first Henty book I ever read myself, and it shaped my positive view of Henty. I have looked forward to being able to read it to my boys, and I was gratified to see they enjoyed it as much as I did when I first read it several years ago. I have commented on some other Henty books here previously and often found myself a bit disappointed, largely because those books failed to live up to this one. In the Reign of Terror is the best Henty book I have read. Unlike With Wolfe in Canada the story flowed well and remained human throughout. It was adventurous and engaging. My boys (ages 11, 9, 7) loved it.

This book provides a good picture of life in the midst of the French Revolution. I wanted my boys to see how this movement differs from the American Revolution- the animosity towards upper class, the revolt against God and enthroning of reason and how that led to unspeakable atrocities in the name of liberty. This book does a good job of that. In that vein it is pretty weighty as the family in the story deals with the execution of most of its members. The violence is not gratuitous but the book is honest.

Harry, the English boy who is the main character, provides a great example of humility, grit, bravery, loyalty, chivalry and perseverance. A French Marquis asked Harry’s father to send over one of his sons to show the Frenchman’s son the hardiness of English boys. There is a great story of Harry rescuing the girls of the family from a wild dog and of Harry and one of the sons on a wolf hunt. Eventually as the revolution continues the characters move to Paris and with the death of the Marquis and his wife, Harry takes on the task of protecting the daughters and leading them to safety in England. The story is told in a very compelling way.

There are many great lessons in the book. There is a good example here not only of masculine bravery but also of feminine bravery and the important support a man draws from a woman who believes in him. This last point is subtle and provided some good foundational conversations with my boys about the importance of a good wife. Choosing a wife is a topic that is far from their minds at the moment, but this story provided an opportunity to plant a few important seeds.

We heartily commend this book.
NOTE: Link at the top is to a more recent reprint edition.

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