HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Tom, The Bootblack or, The Road to Success
Author: Horatio Alger
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, republished in 2014
Language level: 1
(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 8-12
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Alger, Horatio. Tom, The Bootblack or, The Road to Success (originally published in 1889 by A. L. Burt Company; republished in 2014 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). Tom is a fifteen year old boy who lives in New York City with an old man named Jacob in Mrs. Flanagan’s rooming house. They pose as grandfather and grandson, but, while Tom understands that they are no real relation, he knows nothing about his real family. Tom makes a living for them both as a street bootblack. Just before Jacob dies, he tells the boy that he is really Gilbert Grey, the son of a wealthy Cincinnati, OH, businessman named John Grey. However, John’s brother James conspired with Jacob to spirit the child away, claiming that he drowned, so that James could inherit the family wealth. Jacob has written a confession explaining all the details. So after Jacob’s death, Tom, or Gilbert, heads for Cincinnati to see if he can locate his uncle and claim his fortune. What will he find? Can he succeed?
Horatio Alger, Jr. (1832-1899) was a nineteenth-century American author who wrote approximately 135 novels, beginning with Ragged Dick in 1867, most of which have been described as rags to riches stories, illustrating how down-and-out boys might be able to achieve the American dream of wealth and success through hard work, courage, determination, and concern for others. The son of a Unitarian minister, Alger also became a Unitarian minister in Brewster, MA, but soon retired from the ministry and moved to New York City where he formed an association with the Newsboys Lodging House and other agencies offering aid to impoverished children. Alger’s empathy with the young working men, coupled with the moral values he learned at home, formed the basis for his stories. He is noted as a significant figure in the history of American cultural and social ideals, even though his novels are rarely read these days.
Tom the bootblack is a good role-model of honesty, hard work, and persistence. There are a couple of references to dancing, but the evils of alcoholic drink are strongly emphasized. The book is recommended by Nathaniel Bluedorn in Hand That Rocks the Cradle: 400 Classic Books for Children, saying, “These stories teach good character and the benefits of entrepreneurial business practices.” Though Alger’s books may be considered by some as hopelessly outdated and even “weird” today, I can easily see why young boys used to eat them up until they went out of style, and to be honest, even looked upon as pulp fiction, they are still a lot better than much of the trash that poses as young people’s literature in our time. At the end of Tom, the Bootblack, Alger apparently included a couple of short stories, one about Davie Cameron, a poor Scottish peasant who finds a buried treasure, and the other about a young boy named Lloyd who tries to save a schooner during a storm by building a fire on the beach. Faith in God is stressed in both.