Title: A Difficult Boy
Author: M.P. Barker
Publisher: Holiday House
ATOS Book Level: 4.9
Concepts: child schooling and work, indentured servants, natural resources, producers/consumers, wants/needs
Review: With hardly enough money to keep a roof over their heads, Ethan Root’s parents sign a contract with the local store owner, Mr. Lyman, to put their son into indentured servanthood for nine years. Thus, at the tender age of 9, Ethan must leave his family and move in with the Lymans. In exchange for his hard physical labor, Ethan receives room, board, and one set of clothing per year. In addition, he has the opportunity to learn two trades: husbandry at the Lyman’s family farm and business at Mr. Lyman’s general store. Ethan is put under the charge of another indentured servant, the surly-tempered, Irish-born Daniel. When life with the Lymans turns out to be harsher than Ethan anticipated, he finds an unlikely ally in Daniel.
Children reading this book will gain an understanding of the intricacies of an indenture as Ethan asks questions to understand his situation. Children will also get an appreciation of the hard manual labor that Ethan and Daniel (and the children of the time that the boys represent) had to endure just to fill basic needs such as food and clothing. Meanwhile, through Ethan’s attempts to learn business at Lyman’s store, children will receive an introduction into some basic (and some not so basic) finance concepts.
The author has clearly done a lot of research on the customs and colloquialism of the time to create an accurate pictorial of New England in the mid-1800s. In addition, she portrays characters that are well-developed yet constantly evolving as the story progresses. However, this is a dense read with a lot for children to digest -- but it is well worth the effort.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children