Thursday, February 14, 2008

Johnny Tremain (1944)

My spouse and I read this one aloud to our then-eight-year-old son. It was a great fit, both for him and for reading aloud.

The book's language is a little formal and dated. By that I mean Forbes uses constructions that were common in the late 1700s. Actually, I don't know if she researched it to use historically accurate language, but it's noticably different from contemporary writing (and from 1940's era writing), so I assume the effect was intentional.

Anyway, I think the language would have confused or alienated our son if he had been reading it on his own. Because we were reading it aloud, however, we could talk about what was happening and answer his questions as they arose. We all found that after a chapter or two, as often happens, the language felt more natural and less of an effort to understand. Then we were just able to enjoy the story.

It's a clever device Forbes uses: telling the story of the building pre-war tension and activities through the eyes of a boy living/apprenticing in Boston at the time. Interwoven with historical events (the tea party, Revere's midnight ride), is the equally dramatic story of Johnny's personal relationships. He worries about friends' safety as they hold illicit meetings. He has a crush on a girl from the aristocratic class. He struggles with the ethics of being a good English subject or a rebel.

It was a great adventure, a great piece of historical fiction and an overall great read.

This all came as a surprise to this reader, who is not a history fan or reader of boyish adventures.

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