Book Review: The Matchlock Gun

Rating: ★★★★★

Teunis and Gertrude Van Alstyne are Dutch homesteaders caught in the middle of the French and Indian War, and one night Teunis is called away to fight.  He leaves Gertrude, ten-year-old Edward, and six-year-old Trudy alone in their cabin, admonishing her to go to his mother’s house if Indians come their way.  But when Teunis sends word that Indians are coming, Gertrude decides to stay in the cabin out of dislike for her mother-in-law.  Although she rationalizes the decision by telling herself their enemies will leave them alone, she realizes too late that she and Edward must defend themselves.  The only weapon in the home is an antique matchlock gun, used as decoration above the door.

Throughout the text, Gertrude responds to fearful circumstances with calm fortitude, thinking through their plan and carrying out her role in it — but it is Edward on whom she depends to take the action that will save their lives.  There are few stories in which a child is given such an important and difficult task, and his courage and responsibility are awe-inspiring.

This true story starts out slowly, but steadily builds to reach a tremendous climax.  It is splendidly written, and illustrated with lithographic drawings that are impressive given technological limitations at the time of publication.  It is a good read-aloud for pre-readers, but because of the suspenseful nature of the story, sensitive children may need to wait until they are a little older to engage the story without being frightened.

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Publication Information: Edmonds, Walter. Matchlock Gun, The. Lantz, Paul (Illustrator). Dodd. 1941. ISBN: 0698116801.
Categories: 5 Stars, Age 04-08, Book Tree,, Honey For a Child's Heart, NEH Summertime Favorites, Newbery Honor, World Nifty 50
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Posted on July 16, 2010

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