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The Trouble with Henry: A Tale of Walden Pond Hardcover – August 9, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2-5–When Henry David Thoreau leaves Concord, MA, to live in his cabin at Walden Pond, the townsfolk think that he is crazy. They do not share his concerns about the loss of natural resources and view the construction of factories, industrial activity, and even the polluted air as signs of progress. At the end of a long winter, the mayor announces that a toothpick factory will be built near Walden Pond. Thoreau attends the town meeting and encourages everyone to join him for a walk in the woods. The townsfolk breathe in clean air, marvel at spring flowers, and chuckle at the antics of animals. They realize that the woods are precious and worth saving. The straightforward language reads like an informational book, and adults who introduce this title to children will need to explain the difference between the factual versus fictional events. Schindler portrays Thoreau as a lanky, healthy character in a village of pinched faces and upturned noses; he captures the gritty tones of an industrial village as well as the lushness of the forest.–Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
PreS-Gr. 2. This beautifully illustrated picture book uses a fictional anecdote featuring Henry David Thoreau and Walden Pond to make a point. According to the story, all the residents of Concord except Thoreau agreed on the importance of buying "grand things" and bringing wealth to their town despite factories that "fumed and throbbed noisily day and night." Thoreau builds his cabin near Walden Pond and enjoys his solitude. When a Boston firm wants to build a toothpick mill near his retreat, he takes the residents of Concord to the tranquil woods at Walden in hopes of bringing them to their senses. An appended note tells about Thoreau and separates fact from fiction in the story. Centered on an invented conflict that is too easily resolved, the narrative falls a bit flat. Still, Schindler's detailed ink drawings, washed with subtle colors, show a clear contrast between town and wilderness in a way that may resonate even with children who have never visited a pond or woods. Pair this with D. B. Johnson's picture books about an ursine Thoreau, beginning with Henry Hikes to Fitchburg (2000). Carolyn Phelan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Thoreau, an environmentalist and author is viewed by his family and the townsfolk as an eccentric town character. He tells the pompous mayor that he prefers soft materials and patched breeches to starchy, stiff clothing. The mayor sneers at him while adjusting his starchy, itchy collar. He tells Miss Phoebe, the town doyenne who is infused with a sense of entitlement that there is more to life than parasols, pocketbooks and pendants. He speaks against industrial growth in Concord and claims that this suburb of Boston needs clean air and water. His pleas are met with general scorn.
Thoreau decides to visit a beautiful pond that belongs to a man named Emerson. It is at Walden's Pond that Thoreau has found his home. He communes with nature, flora and fauna alike and builds a small house in the woods near that pond. He is happiest there, with his books and with the clean air and bucolic beauty that Walden's Pond and the surrounding woods have to offer.
He lives in that house for two years. One winter was especially harsh, so Thoreau reluctantly re-enteres town. His fellow Concordians sneer and scoff at him; whenever he goes to pick up his mail, he is met with general derision.
One day he sees the mayor and some other men right outside his window. He learns that they are planning to build a toothpick factory in those very woods! Alarmed, he attends a town meeting and is the only one who speaks out against buildling anything in those woods. To prove his point, he asks the meeting's attendees to join him in a walk through the woods he calls his home.
Once there, the townsfolk breathe clean air; take in the pastoral beauty of their surroundings and realize that this man is no fool. Luckily, Thoreau's pleas prevail and to this day Walden's pond and a replica of the house where he once lived stand.
Thoreau could be considered to be ahead of his times. His writings have influenced many, such as Gandhi, King and even former President Clinton. His gentle plea for a return to nature and to preserve the earth without industrial growth has long been used as a benchmark for environmentalists to this day.
An interesting aside: Concord was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne; the Alcotts and John Brown. It is an intellectual and cultural mecca and the town museum is testament to the town's rich history. Algonquian tribes lived in the area and a slave named John Jacks, "approximately 60 years" is buried in the town cemetery. Walden's Pond is just down the street from the Old North Bridge and the Old Tavern.
As for Thoreau, he is drawn in a Lincolnesque style when in fact he looked nothing like Lincoln. He was described as being short and squat as opposed to ectomorphically lean like Lincoln.
This is a truly outstanding book and one I would heartily recommend to everyone.
Of course this isn't exactly what happened -- there were some industries in the area but logging had been taking place in the Walden woods for a long time before Thoreau got there, and while some of the townsfolk thought Thoreau was crazy, none of them were threatened by his lifestyle and none tried to threaten him. Still, the essence of the story rings true, and the authors use of poetic license serves to indicate how much of a contrast there was between Thoreau's convictions and lifestyle and those of most around him. A very nice story, that would serve as an excellent brief introduction to the life of Thoreau for newcomers of all ages.
One minor caveat on the otherwise excellent illustrations: Thoreau is here depicted as tall and lanky, something like Lincoln, when in fact by all accounts he was short and lean but built.
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Why is it necessary to take an inspiring and original story and turn it into an ideologically driven, formulaic tract?Read more