Hans Brinker – A Sterling Story

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!

• Were the telescope and microscope invented by the Dutch Jacob Metius and Sacharias Janssen or by the English Roger Bacon
• 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:

Never had the sunset appeared more beautiful to Peter than when he saw it exchanging farewell glances with the windows and shining roofs of the city before him.

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!

The Peterkin Papers

The Peterkin Papers reminds me of a young child who tells a joke that makes everyone laugh. Then she tells the same joke again and again and again and again, looking for the same satisfying response. 

The Peterkins–Mr. and Mrs., Agamemnon, Elizabeth Eliza, Solomon John, and various unnamed younger brothers–are a family with lofty aspirations and nothing to ground them.  If the Christmas tree is too tall for their living room, they raise the ceiling instead of cutting the tree down to size. In short, they are silly fools. The lady from Philadelphia is their salvation. After they’ve exhausted their harebrained ideas, she solves their problem with one sentence of common sense.

The foolishness is funny at first blush, but gets tiresome quickly.  On the plus side, the illustrations are well done, complementing the text.  The chapter on Agamemnon’s education entertained me because it was close enough to the truth to be very funny. This is the best taste of the book I can offer.

Agamemnon had always been fond of reading, from his childhood up. He was at his book all day long. Mrs. Peterkin had imagined he would come out a great scholar because she could never get him away from his books.

And so it was in his colleges; he was always to be found in the library, reading and reading. But they were always the wrong books.

For instance: the class were required to prepare themselves on the Spartan war. This turned Agamemnon’s attention to the Fenians, and to study the subject he read up on Charles O’Malley and Harry Lorrequer, and some later novels of that sort, which did not help him on the subject required, yet took up all his time, so that he found himself unfitted for anything else when the examinations came. In consequence he was requested to leave.

Agamemnon always missed in his recitations, for the same reason that Elizabeth Eliza did not get on in school, because he was always asked the questions he did not know. It seemed provoking; if the professors had only asked something else! But they always hit upon the very things he had not studied up.

Mrs. Peterkin felt this was encouraging, for Agamemnon knew the things they did not know in colleges. In colleges they were willing to take for students only those who knew certain things. She thought Agamemnon might be a professor in a college for those students who didn’t know those things.

Alert! New Wendell Berry!!

I just ordered a brand new book – a children’s book – by Wendell Berry: Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World because the opening paragraph was just too wonderful.

Her name was Peromyscus leucopus, but she did not know it. I think it had been a long time since the mice around Port William spoke English, let alone Latin.  Her language was a dialect of Mouse, a tongue for which we humans have never developed a vocabulary or a grammar.  Because I don’t know her name in Mouse, I will call her Whitefoot. 

Isn’t it just….delicious?  I have been a “serial clicker” this morning – clicking Suprise Me! in the Amazon Reader to see more, no matter the random order.

One more paragraph! 

Her name fits because her four small feet and all the underside of her were a pure, clean white.  Her coat, above, was a reddish brindly tan.  She had a graceful tail, a set of long, elegant whiskers, perfect ever-listening ears, a fastidious nose, and black profound eyes shining with sight. She took a small, feminine pleasure in being beautiful.

Contented sigh….

I. Love. Wendell Berry.