Newbery vocab · stuff I read

The Matchlock Gun

In my quest to read all the Newbery-winning books I knew that I would find some that I didn’t like.

I don’t like The Matchlock Gun (this edition is closer to the edition I borrowed from the library).  Winner of the 1942 medal.  It’s probably more interesting as an artifact of American publishing mid-century than as a fun story to read.

The plot is fairly simplistic: white settlers of Dutch descent in colonial New England are threatened during the French and Indian war; father leaves to help the militia leaving mother, tweener son, and young daughter at homestead; wouldnchyaknowit but a group of Indians shows up, wounding the mother as she runs to alert the children; the son saves the family by firing the 16th century Spanish matchlock gun; the home burns down but the family is alive when the father returns.  The end.

According to the author’s lengthy foreword (which ought to be an Afterword since it gives nearly the whole book away), the story is based on a real event in the author’s family history.  Fair enough.  However, the way Native Americans are depicted in the illustration and description, essentially as savages, is a reflection of a mid-twentieth-century viewpoint; it really doesn’t work in 2010.  The illustrations are also very garish and look like they were done by a grade schooler with a limited number of crayons (the illustrations were also placed in odd areas, sometimes before the text of the scene depicted).

Vocab: muster, culverins, boneset (I think this is an herb), camomile, schnapps

All in all, I wouldn’t assign this as a book for children.  Maybe for a history of publishing class or as a refence about cultural attitudes.  Caddie Woodlawn is older by about 6 years and is far better in both tone and story.

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