I’m tooting right along through my goal of 10 books from my own shelf by the end of 2015. This book marks the 9th on my list, and I plan to start on Shakespeare’s As You Like It either tonight or tomorrow.
To be quite honest, I’ve actually forgotten where I got my copy of Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain. Probably at a thrift store or a book sale. Anyway, I’m glad I had the chance to read this book. It had exactly the kind of plot I would have loved as a little girl, and the little girl in me still enjoyed it.
Johnny Tremain is a silversmith’s apprentice in 1770s Boston. His mother is dead, and he is learning his trade under the elderly Mr. Lapham. While working on a silver piece commissioned by John Hancock, Johnny burns his hand, leaving it crippled. Since he cannot work in the silversmith trade with one hand, Johnny is left trying to find himself another job. He finally takes a position as a delivery boy for the patriot newspaper, the Observer, where he befriends the apprentice Rab, a boy two years Johnny’s senior. Rab is the strong, quiet type, the one to lead by example. Johnny quickly finds himself looking up to Rab, who is an ardent Whig (that is, one who finds the “taxation without representation” issue to be tyrannical). What Johnny didn’t know when he took his job was that he would find himself smack-dab in the middle of Revolutionary War history. Rab and his Uncle Lorne, the Observer’s owner, are directly involved with Sam Adams’ Sons of Liberty group. Getting to sit in on the conspiracy group, Johnny finds himself involved in thrilling events like the Boston Tea Party, the march on Lexington, and the Battle at Concord. Along the way, Johnny grows up quite a bit and learns the importance of American liberty. The book closes with the biggest lesson Johnny learns:
“Hundreds would die, but not the thing they died for. ‘A man can stand up [for what he believes in]…'”
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a battle to get through it (no pun intended). The first few pages seemed so dry and boring, but I’m glad I gave this book a chance. I really liked the characters in this book, especially Johnny and Rab.
Johnny isn’t a little Lord Fauntleroy. He’s imperfect. He’s got an attitude and a bit of an ego. But, he’s got spunk and drive, and I liked that.
Rab isn’t one to say much, but he has a presence that puts people at ease. He knows that being a man isn’t about what one says, but about what one does. I think Johnny picks up on that throughout the book and incorporates it into his own character.
One thing that really made this book great was its historical accuracy. The characters with whom Johnny interacts were really important figures in Boston during the 1770s – men like Paul Revere, William Dawes, and John Hancock. Real events happen – the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s and William Dawes’ ride, and the rousing of the Minute Men at the battles of Lexington and Concord. It was really neat to see history come to life in this book. I LOVE American history when people take the time to make it interesting. I think often we get so caught up in the dates and the information of history that we the human element of our country’s history. I know that I often forget that the men who helped win our country’s freedom had real lives. They had wives and children and siblings and parents. They had fears and insecurities. They laughed and they cried and they loved and they hated. They were people, just like us, not just some ambiguous, faceless dudes who fired some muskets against scarlet-coated Englishmen. That’s what I liked about this book. Esther Forbes humanizes the war and the men in it. She shows how it really impacted Americans and shaped the pride that we all carry as American citizens.
This is a great book for all readers, but I would definitely encourage you to check it out for the middle-schooler in your life. This is a great way to put a little history into their lives without them knowing it (like when you sneak vegetables into a yummy recipe and they eat it without ever knowing the difference).