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The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut Paperback – May 29, 2009
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Unfortunately, today he is not read nearly as much as he should be. This book by Paul Nowak, however, is an excellent introduction to Chesterton. While written with children in mind, it is great for adults as well.
Not only does Nowak present a Chestertonian perspective of life in his stories (based on the writings of and incidents in the life of Chesterton), he also is a very good storyteller himself. I enjoyed reading the stories greatly. The book isn't that long (about 55 pages), but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. (And, of course, for many people, the book only being 55 pages is a plus itself, as it makes it more likely they will have the time to read the entire book).
In short, I highly recommend reading this book.
Popularly, however, Chesterton is best remembered today for his creative writing: poetry, essays, and short stories. Two plays were not very successful. Unlike a couple of his younger contemporaries whom he greatly influenced, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, "Uncle Chestnut" did not write fantasy that appeals to children. Yet, he loved children. Most of his drawings, poems, and stories for children are very personal, created as gifts for specific children and left unpublished, whereas his works that have survived were geared for adults even while they praised the ways of childhood. The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut is the first of an intended series that is designed to present G. K. Chesterton in a more familiar light for youngsters as well as time-pressed adults, based upon his own observation, "An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."
Author Paul Nowak weaves actual events in Chesterton's life and bits of wisdom from his writings into four fictional stories written especially for young people in which Chesterton is pictured as interacting with a nephew Jack (named for C. S. Lewis, whose nickname was "Jack") and their neighbor Christie (named for Agatha Christie, who was a fellow member of the Detection Club with Chesterton). The setting has been moved from England to New Jersey, and the time is a little more recent, probably to make the book more appealing to today's kids, but it is still delightful reading. A few typographical errors in the first print run copy that I had for review have already been corrected for later editions. I shall leave you with this bit of advice from Uncle Chestnut: "Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously." How true!
The book was a quick read and an enjoyable one. There were moments I laughed out loud. I liked that in the back of the book there was a page called "Words To Know", that gave a definition of words in the book that young readers may struggle with their meaning.
My favorite passage in this books falls on pages 14 and 15 when Uncle Chestnut is explaining to Jack how people do not find where they live extraordinary because they live it every day and do not see from the perspective of an outsider looking in. I quote:
"So people go about their lives, not noticing the giant on their mountain, or the great treasures they have. They see the same things every day, and so think that these things are just plain and ordinary."
"That is why," said Uncle Chestnut. "I believe in giants, fairies, and all kinds of things we cannot see. Perhaps we are so tired of looking at the world that we don't see them anymore."
Well put Uncle Chestnut. Well put.
Nowak contemporizes Chesterton in four short stories, so concise and simple that even I can understand them. Chesterton's brand of optimistic conservatism provides an antidote to the dour positivism that dominates grade schools, and Nowak tops it off with just a dose of Chestertonian humor to keep us engaged and laughing as we learn.
Chesterton is rendered as a contemporary American who vacations on the Jersey shore, and draws analogies based on baseball and American Idol. He speaks in a language current youth can understand. But the book is illustrated in the style of early 20th Century children's books. Uncle Chestnut is a man gleefully out of his time.
My single significant problem with this book is its length. At scarcely over fifty pages of large type, it's barely an hour's reading for curious kids these days. If there's a second edition, I hope it comes out longer, because kids and their parents today need a healthy dose of Chestertonian wisdom in our dreary, overburdened lives.
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