Recently, I re-read Esther Forbes’s children’s classic novel, Johnny Tremain, which won the Newbery Award in 1944. This was a favorite book of my childhood and seems an appropriate choice for the week of our Memorial Day holiday. Though Memorial Day was originally created to honor the dead of the Civil War, we now honor all those who gave their lives for this country, starting with the Minutemen killed at Lexington.
To recap, Johnny Tremain is an apprentice silversmith in old Boston town at the beginning of the book. A complex character, he is more than a bit arrogant and full of himself at first since he’s the senior apprentice and quite talented at his trade. That is, until the awful accident that ruins his right hand. Suddenly, Johnny is plunged from his position as first among equals to least among equals. His first response is to take out his misery on everyone else. Eventually, he finds another job delivering newspapers for a radical Boston newspaper, which puts him in the midst of the revolutionary fervor. He also meets Raf, an older boy who helps Johnny and becomes a close friend.
Adversity makes Johnny into a better person and propels him into the forefront of the revolution, including the Boston Tea Party. I found some of the passages fascinating in the context of knowing the book was written in 1943.
Forbes started out as a historian, and had previously published an acclaimed non-fiction work, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. As a result, her novel has a marvelous sense of place and time. Boston is one of my favorite US cities. I was there twice last year where I spent a day walking the Freedom Trail from Boston Common to the Old North Church.
This was a nice nostalgic read for me that made me want to see the Disney movie again, which is available to rent on Prime Video. I enjoyed the book just as much as an adult as I did as a child. The Kindle version contains original illustrations which I also enjoyed. This is one of the books, along with Elizabeth Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which inspired me to want to write historical novels.
What are some of your childhood favorites?
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