HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: All Sail Set: A Romance of the Flying Cloud
Author and Illustrator: Armstrong Sperry
Publisher: David R. Godine, republished 1995
Language level: 2
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12 and up
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Sperry, Armstrong. All Sail Set: A Romance of the Flying Cloud (published in 1935 by The John C. Winston Company, New York City, NY). It is around 1850, and fifteen year old Enoch Thatcher lives in East Boston, MA, with his widowed mother Abigail. His father Joel, a merchant, had been ruined a couple of years before when his ship, The Empress of Asia, went down with his entire fortune off Cape Horn on her return from China. Mr. Thatcher, who never recovered from his losses, died a year later, and Mrs. Thatcher, who wants her son to have nothing to do with sailing, is having trouble making ends meet even though she gives music lessons and takes in boarders. Yet Enoch, under the influence of his neighbor and best friend, old retired ship captain Messina Clarke, has a passion for the sea, so to help his mother out the boy gets a job with ship builder David McKay for $3.00 a week and is involved in building the clipper Flying Cloud which is purchased by Grinnell Minturn and Company of New York City, NY.
McKay wants to know how his new ship actually performs, so he talks Mrs. Thatcher into allowing him to recommend Enoch to be an apprentice on the vessel’s maiden voyage around the Horn to San Francisco, CA, and then on to China under Captain Josiah Perkins Creesy with a crew of 101, including friendly second mate Mr. Andrews and the other three apprentices Archie (Brick) Warner, Ted (Lanny) Landcraft, and Jake (Whit) Whittlesy. But with enemies like bucko first mate Mr. Jones and seaman Jeeter Sneed, seasickness, terrible storms, and the ever present danger of fire, will Enoch survive the trip? What other crew members might be lost. And for that matter, does the ship even make it to California? My favorite childhood author, Armstrong Sperry, won the 1941 Newbery Medal for my favorite childhood book, Call It Courage. His All Sail Set was a 1936 Newbery Honor Book. There are a few common euphemisms (blasted, gee), and people are said to have cursed, but no curse words are actually used; the exclamation “My God” occurs once, though it is difficult to tell whether it is uttered as a profanity or a prayer. Smoking a pipe, chewing tobacco, and drinking rum are mentioned in passing but not emphasized.
One reviewer, a female, wrote, “I have mixed feelings about this book. Honestly, I probably would have given up on it if I weren’t reading it for the blog. The first 80 pages or so were dry as toast to me, and full of nautical jargon without even being set at sea (yet).” To be fair, she does go on to say, “But, reading on my own assignment, I persevered, and was glad for it in the end. Once Thach is on the ship, things move along, and there’s a lot more actual story.” I guess that I would expect this kind of review from a girl. But what red-blooded American boy, at least of my generation, would not thrill at the excitement and adventure of reading about Enoch standing on the deck of the ship, breathing in the salty ocean air, and sailing the seven seas (which, by the way, at that time would have been the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic Ocean,, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico), all the while imagining himself right there with him? The book is a historical novel, so there is some dramatic license, and while Enoch appears to be fictional, McKay and Captain Creesy were actual people and the Flying Cloud really did make record time between New York and San Francisco on her maiden voyage. It is notable for its accurate depiction of sailing ships, with a good sense of what it must have felt like to be out on the sea for the first time—e.g., getting sea legs, climbing the rigging, sleeping quarters, work schedules, food, fights, etc.—complemented by the detailed drawings. There is a very helpful glossary of nautical terms at the end of the book for the benefit of landlubbers.