Thursday, January 10, 2019

Book Review: All Alone by Claire Huchet Bishop (1953)

Marcel is ten years old, and he is finally old enough to be sent up the French Alps to keep watch over his family's cattle for the entire summer. Though Marcel's father trusts him, he also makes it clear to his son that he is not to make friends with anyone during his summer away. The attitude of Marcel's entire community is that getting involved with neighbors can only lead to trouble. Marcel's father wants Marcel to focus only on the task at hand, and to avoid anything which might jeopardize the cattle. Once Marcel is on the mountain, however, he finds it comforting to hear the yodeling of another boy who is tending his own herd. He tries not to befriend the boy,  but when disaster strikes, his attitude must change in order to ensure both boys' survival, and that of their cows.

This Newbery Honor book from 1954 is mostly a compelling story of friendship, adventure, and the first taste of independence. The details given by the author make it easy for the reader to envision the story's setting, and the interactions between Marcel and his dad do a wonderful job of setting up the main tension of the book. I read the book aloud to my older two girls (ages 3 and 5) and they were totally hooked and invested in every thread of the plot.

I was disappointed, though, by the ending. When all is said and done, Marcel's neighbors come to the realization that they can be more successful farmers if they pool their resources and work together. Suddenly, this highly individualistic group of people becomes completely community-minded, and the final chapter of the book lays down a very heavy-handed moral that feels a bit like Communist propaganda. My husband did some research and shared with me that the author meant to promote communitarianism, which emphasizes ownership by the community and not by the government. Whichever ideology she is promoting, though, that last chapter just feels out of place and uncomfortable, as does all blatant propaganda in children's literature.  I would still recommend the book because of the theme of friendship and the truly exciting adventure scenes, but I think it would have been a better book all around if it hadn't taken its lesson quite so far.

All Alone is out of print, but you can read it online at at the link below.

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