190. By the Great Horn Spoon!

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Eric von Schmidt

Pages: 193
Ages: 8+
Finished: Oct. 23, 2009
First Published: 1963
Genre: children, historical fiction, humour
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

A sailing ship with two great sidewheels went splashing out of Boston harbor on a voyage around the Horn to San Francisco.

Reason for Reading: read aloud to my 9yo to go with our history studies.

Summary: Aunt Arabella is in imminent danger of losing her estate so Jack and the butler, Praiseworthy, leaving a note behind, stowaway on a ship to reach California where they plan to strike it rich with the other forty-niners. Thus coming home in time to save Aunt Arabella's estate. If only things worked out just as we planned them...

Comments: As historical fiction, the book's historical content is contained to life aboard a coal-fueled steamship, both above and below decks, the lifestyle of a gold miner and the drudgery of working on a gold claim with the likelihood of not finding any gold. Otherwise, the tale told here is far too tall to take seriously. Having read a handful of Fleishman's books, including some McBroom, I knew what to expect all along.

A delightful, over-the-top, rip-roaring adventure that both ds and I enjoyed immensely. The character of Praiseworthy is hilarious. Being the perfect 'stiff upper lip' butler he is completely out of his element in the dusty wilds but like the perfect butler he can fix any awkward situation in a jiffy. Praiseworthy slowly loses pieces of his butler's ensemble and with it his lip begins to loosen up as well. Undoubtedly, Praiseworthy is the star of this book. Oddly enough though, with the book being about the rush for gold, the first good half (maybe a bit less) of the book takes place aboard the steamship. We certainly enjoyed the exploits on board, and sailing books are a big hit around here, but we did start to wonder when the gold rush part of the book would ever start. To sum up the story simply put: good, clean fun with plenty of action and loads of laughs.

The only thing I didn't enjoy were the illustrations which are of the scribbled variety. I'm sure someone may appreciate them; they are detailed but to me they look like continuous line drawings that were scribbled up in two minutes. I'm not a fan of von Schmidt. But I am pleased the book keeps the original illustrations. There is nothing worse than ripping apart a piece of literature by implanting "new" illustrations. This brings me to the cover. Neither my son nor I were pleased with it. When reading ds always has a fun time placing the cover picture in the story and guessing what is happening in the cover. Since the cover illustration has been "updated" the characters look nothing like they do inside the book and he could not figure out who they were and when the fight scene finally came he was literally disgusted with the cover drawing, especially of Praiseworthy. "Doesn't look anything like him!" he said. I agree.

I can't find a picture of the original cover anywhere but here is a foreign edition with von Schmidt's artwork and a proper picture of Praiseworthy, perhaps it is the original cover artwork. Who knows?

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  1. Yes, this is a lovely book that I enjoyed reading aloud to my boys. We then pursued several others by the same author. Most of them were just as satisfying.

  2. I would never pick up that first cover but the second really shows the humor you talked about. Sounds like a fun book.


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