A Lantern in Her Hand

Book: A Lantern in Her Hand
Author: Bess Streeter Aldrich
Cover Illustrator: Bill Dodge
Publisher: Puffin Classics, reprinted in 1997
ISBN-13: 978-0833505866 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0833505866 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0140384284 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0140384286 (Paperback)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Many publishers and/or authors provide copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion. Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Aldrich, Bess Streeter. A Lantern in Her Hand (published in 1928 by D. Appleton and Company; reprinted in 1997 by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Books USA Inc. of the Penguin Group, 375 Hudson St., New York City, NY 10014). Before I read it, I had assumed that the first book by Bess Streeter Aldrich which someone lent me, The Rim of the Prairie, was about pioneer days. It wasn’t but concerned more modern times. However, A Lantern in Her Hand is about pioneer days. The latter covers the life of Abbie Mackenzie Deal, whose father had come from an aristocratic family in Aberdeen, Scotland, married an Irish peasant girl named Maggie O’Conner, lost his fortune, and came to Chicago, IL. In 1854, two years after his death when Abbie was eight, Maggie moved the family to Blackhawk County, IA. There Abbie met and married Will Deal and moved further west with him to settle in Nebraska. The rest of the book discusses how she endures the difficulties of frontier life and raises her children to pursue the ambitions that were once her own “with a song upon her lips and a lantern in her hand.”

Though not strictly historical fiction, the story does interweave references to many important historical events that occurred during Abbie’s lifetime and influenced her family, including the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, so there is a nice timeline on which to peg the plot. It also includes what must be a very realistic account about life on the Nebraska prairie in those days, especially since the author modeled it on her own mother, who in 1854 had traveled by covered wagon to the Midwest.. I first heard about the book when it was recommended by Love to Learn, a Christian homeschool supplier who said, “A sweet and touching story…of a woman’s joyful way of living in spite of the harshness of wilderness life.” In addition to a few common euphemisms (golly, gosh, darned), the “h” word is found a couple of times, and both “God” and “Lord” are used occasionally as interjections. However, it is interesting to note that “during the deep snows when they were shut in, she gave the children lessons to do.” So, at least part of the time, Abbie Deal was a homeschool mom.

Most reader reviews were positive. One negative reviewer wrote, “It read like a boring soap opera… like a cheap romance novel without any romance.” This individual must be referring to vastly different soap operas and cheap romance novels than the ones with which I’m familiar. This person also said, “And it is not a Christian book, either, by the way, even though it lacks any blatant immorality.” The fact that “it lacks any blatant immorality” definitely is a plus. And if one means by “Christian book” a story in which everyone “gets saved” and then stands around, holds hands, and sings “Let’s just praise the Lord,” well, no, it’s not that kind of book. But it does definitely reflect a general Biblical worldview, making references to believing in creation, going to church, and prayer, along with copious Biblical allusions. We did this as a family read aloud, and even with a few “tear-jerker” moments mostly towards the end, we all liked it for its basically joyful and overcoming spirit.

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