Hans Brinker is a sterling story.
Like a meal at a four-star restaurant it is delicious, beautiful and nourishing. But a taste for delicious, beautiful and nourishing must be cultivated. I would not serve Mary Mapes Dodge’s classic Hans Brinker to a child who has been fed a steady diet of literary Happy Meals. But a boy or girl who has tasted Laura Ingalls Wilder, Robert Louis Stevenson, Louisa May Alcott or Ralph Moody would eat this story up.
The setting, the time period and cultural references are foreign, and thus require some work to read. Published in 1865, the story is set in the Netherlands. Imagine weather so cold that the canals froze. What would American families do? Stay inside and watch TV. In nineteenth century Holland every able bodied person laced on his skates, bundled up and had fun skating!
There are benefits to reading it slowly, using tools such as Google Earth, search engines and maps to explore areas of interest. Rabbit trails abound!
• A group of boys skate to Leiden and The Hague: look it up!
• Why did the art of curing and pickling herrings revolutionize the economy of Holland?
Any reader with a whiff of curiosity could learn a fair bit about Holland by reading Hans Brinker alone, in concert with other reference tools, or alongside other books like The Wheel on the School. References to art abound; use Hans Brinker as a springboard for studying Dutch artists.
Some favorite quotes:
It is no sin to love beautiful things.
A tamed bird is a sad bird, say what you will.
Although the sermon was spoken slowly, Ben [English boy] could understand little of what was said; but when the hymn came, he joined in with all his heart. A thousand voices lifted in love and praise offered a grander language than he could readily comprehend.
Who will be the fastest skater in the race and win the Silver Skates? Read Hans Brinker to find out!