Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this to audition a book for my grandson's homeschool literature lesson. As I child, I loved this book, although I probably got lost in the chapters where boys from the town skate to Haarlem and go to the museums and churches. I found this to be a plus for homeschool lessons since I was able to find many of these places and works of art on the internet which I can also use for lessons.
Hans and his sister, Gretel, are very poor. Their father, a sluice gate tender, was injured on the job and has been witless ever since. At times he is very cruel, although they recognize that he does not know what he is doing. Hans and Gretel lead lives filled with work and their only pleasure is skating on the frozen canal in their makeshift skates Hans has made out of wood. When news of a prize of silver skates is to be awarded in a race, they are sorry that they would never be able to win in their old skates.
Their poverty is made all the more difficult because there is a lot of money hidden some place in or around the house, but the location is locked in the addled brain of their father. He did something with the money just before he went out to work on the night he was injured. Hans and Gretel are forced to do whatever work they can find to help support them.
One of the things that makes the book interesting is the social commentary in the book. Several of the boys and girls in town are mentioned and much is made of either their character flaws or virtues. While simplistic on the surface, the characterization is good. One if the wealthy girls in town stands out because she recognizes her good fortune and arranges for both Hans and his sister to have metal skates.
When the book gets to the final race, it is almost an afterthought. The true natures of many of the characters have been displayed and the story ends in a satisfactory manner.
I did not realize the Mary Mapes Dodge went on the be the editor of the famous "St. Nicholas Magazine" which featured stories by classical children's author such as Mark Twain, Joel Chandler Harris, Rudyard Kipling and many others. We just happened to have Henry Steele Commanger's anthology of the magazine and I found it to be a great complement to the lessons on this book.
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