Sunday, November 22, 2015

Reading Through History: The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh (1952)

"There are no bears on Hemlock Mountain." This is the mantra Jonathan uses to comfort himself on the long and lonely journey over the mountain to borrow his aunt's large iron pot. When he stays too long at his aunt's house and ventures home in the dark, however, it becomes clear that there are bears on Hemlock Mountain - and Jonathan must outsmart them if he's to make it home safe and sound!

It is surprising to me how many reviewers on Goodreads are critical of the Newbery committee which awarded this book an Honor in 1953. Perhaps it is the simplicity of the story - which is most appropriate for beginning readers - that turns them off, but as I write this review weeks after finishing the book, I am struck by how many details and images have stuck with me. The writing may be spare and straightforward, but the author has a real talent for bringing scenes to life using very few words.

When I worked in the library, kids would often ask for easy-to-read adventure books and there were really very few that suited their interests. This story, with its strong sense of suspense and surprising climax is exactly the kind of book that would have satisfied those readers. Not only would they relate to Jonathan, who is very much an ordinary kid, they would also enjoy imagining how they would act in his place, and how it might feel to be on an independent journey so late at night.

This book is every bit as wonderful as The Courage of Sarah Noble and it covers the same concept - of bravery - from the male point of view. Both books are great for beginning readers to tackle on their own or for families to read aloud together. Highly recommended.

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