Mystery farce with historical novel aspects set against the development of England's merchant fleet and its trade in wool with the continent in the early 15th century. A bluff and jovial man, with an infectious laugh and a great shock of unkempt hair, Tod of the Fens leads a band of merry rogues and adventurers who live in rude huts in the fens near the port of Boston and prey on travelers for fun. Tod takes into his band Dismas, who is really Henry, the Prince of Wales. For a lark, he wagers Tod's men that in a week and a day he will make fools of all the townsmen in Boston. Assuming various disguises, he steals one by one the five keys to the town strong box. he leaves the contents untouched and deposits the ekeys at the foot of the steeple of St. Botolph's. The townspeople assume their treasure has been stolen, and suspicion falls on the wrong person. A series of amusing misadventures ensues involving a large number of people until finally Tod of the Fens takes possession of the treasure.
Tod Of The Fens by Elinor Whitney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I haven't read all of the 1929 Newbery Award and Honor books (yet) but I suspect that this honor book is the one that should've won the award that year. This is the first of the older Newberies that I enjoyed. Despite the decades that have passed since the book's publication, this book remains a teaching-tool for the classroom.
English Lit majors will enjoy this medieval farce but most kids will probably find this book dry and boring because it is archaic in it's structure - kids that enjoy Shakespeare will like this book while the kids who groan at the Bard's name will probably continue to moan while reading this book. I highly recommend this book for parents who suspect their kid may be a future English Lit major.
The first few chapters are loaded with historical information, which could be seen as information overload but this overload helps shape a past world that modern-day kids aren't familiar with. The language can be a bit rough but it's a great way to introduce kids to early modern English which most kids will meet when they read Shakespeare in high school so this book has use as a prep-tool for future classes, both in English history and English literature. Reading out loud helps illustrate meanings for younger audiences - this book is one that should be used for school-plays (even if it's only done in the classroom, with kids sitting at their desks taking turns reading out-loud) because the play-acting will help kids figure out the nuances of the language.
So, while there are many Newbery Books I wouldn't recommend reading with kids, this book isn't one of them.
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