HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Young Walter Scott: An Historical Romance, with a Portrait
Author: Elizabeth Janet Gray
Illustrator: Kate Seredy
Publisher: Viking Press, 1935
Language level: 1
(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 12-18
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Gray, Elizabeth Janet. Young Walter Scott: An Historical Romance, with a Portrait (published in 1935 by The Viking Press, New York City, NY). This is a fictionalized children’s biography, similar to the well-known “Childhood of Famous Americans” series, of the early life of Scottish historical novelist, playwright, poet, and historian Walter Scott, whose titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian, and The Bride of Lammermoor. Scott was born on August 15, 1771, the ninth child of Walter Scott, a Writer to the Signet (solicitor), and Anne Rutherford. Five of Walter’s siblings died in infancy, and a sixth died when he was five months of age. He himself survived a childhood bout of polio in 1773 that left him lame and was sent to live at his paternal grandparents’ farm of Sandyknowe, with his Grandmother Scott, Aunt Janet (Jenny), and Uncle Thomas, who told him the stories from Scottish history and legend. The book opens with Walter’s return home to Edinburgh in 1778 for private education to prepare him for school. His older brother Robert, sixteen, is in the navy. His older brother John is in high school. Walter (Wattie), and his younger brothers Thomas and Daniel, attend Mr. Leachman’s school in Bristo Port. He also has a younger sister Anne.
A year later, after studying with a tutor, Scott begins attending the Royal High School of Edinburgh in High School Yards along with John. After finishing school he is sent to stay for six months with his aunt Jenny, now in Kelso, attending the local grammar school. Then at the age of twelve, he begins studying the classics at the University of Edinburgh in November of 1783. Walter had dreamed of a military career but was prevented from that by his lameness. So he wants to become a writer instead, but his father plans for him to become a lawyer, and in March of 1786 he begins an apprenticeship in his father’s office. What does Walter decide do? Will he be a lawyer, or a writer, or something else entirely? Young Walter Scott was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1936 for author Elizabeth Janet Gray, who went on to win the award in 1943 with Adam of the Road. There are a few references to dancing and to drinking porter or ale, but it is an extremely well-written and easily followed account that is very interesting to read. Some like it, some don’t. An early criticism in The Year’s Work in English Studies volume 19 (English Association, 1940, page 212) noted that “Young or old, Walter Scott would have had some difficulty in recognizing himself or his environment in this softly tinted artificial light.” Whatever that means. I agree with Kirkus Reviews which described it as “A vigorous picture of boyhood against odds….”
Another critical review by a female who admitted, “It’s written well enough to be understood by kids, despite the occasional Scottish dialect tossed in” goes on to say, “But the question is, why? What kid, while browsing the biographies, will see this and think ‘Oh, Walter Scott! He rocks! I can’t wait to read more about *him*!’ I have no idea what child would ever want to read this, or care about the protagonist. Heck, I wasn’t especially interested, either. The author certainly makes you sensitive to things that are happening to Walter, but meh. He’s hard to relate to.” Weel, now, lassie, have ye no read the exciting adventures of Ivanhoe or thrilled to the grand exploits of Rob Roy? If ye had, ye would nae have asked sich a question. Any laddie who kens those stories weel would jump at the chance to learn more about the young life of their author. Perhaps what the reviewer says might be true of many kids today whose attention spans have been developed and are governed by television sitcoms and video games, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.