Book: Penn

Author: Elizabeth Janet Gray

Illustrator: George Gillett Whitney

Publisher: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, republished 1986

ISBN-13: 978-0670546428 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 0670546429 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0941308069 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0941308065 Paperback

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 12-16

Rating: ***** 5 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Gray, Elizabeth Janet. Penn (published in 1938 and republished in 1967 by The Viking Press Inc., 625 Madison Ave., New York City, NY  10022).  William Penn was born on October 14, 1644, at Tower Hill, London, to 23-year-old English Captain (later Admiral) Sir William Penn, himself the son of English Captain Giles Penn, and Margaret Jasper Penn.  Son William was educated first at Chigwell School in Essex, by private tutors whilst in Ireland, and later at Christ Church, Oxford, also studying law at Lincoln’s Inn.  Young Penn was sent to Ireland in 1666 to manage the family estates.  There he began to attend Quaker meetings near Cork, publicly declared himself a member, and finally joined the Quakers at the age of 22, becoming a close friend of George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, whose movement started in the 1650s during the tumult of the Cromwellian revolution.  Penn first married Gulielma Maria Posthuma Springett (1644–1696), and they had three sons and five daughters:

Seeing conditions for Quakers deteriorating in England, Penn decided to appeal directly to the King and proposed a solution which would solve the problem—a mass emigration of English Quakers to a colony in North America.  Penn first called the area “New Wales,” then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forests” or “woods”), which King Charles II changed to “Pennsylvania” in honor of Penn’s Father.  On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter, and shortly afterwards, Penn left for the New World to begin building the city of Philadelphia but later returned to England. Two years after Gulielma’s death he married Hannah Margaret Callowhill (1671–1726) in 1698, and they had eight children in twelve years, the first two dying in infancy.  After making a second trip to Pennsylvania, Penn returned again to England, where he died on July 30, 1718.  This biography of William Penn written for children by Elizabeth Janet Gray Vining, who won the Newbery Medal in 1943 for Adam of the Road, was illustrated by George Gillett Whitney.  It was published in 1938 and was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1939

Most people know that William Penn was a Quaker who founded the city of Philadelphia, but that is about all.  This very informative and simple history of the life, intelligence, integrity, and faith of William Penn tells how he defied his father to become a Quaker and led a life of turmoil and persecution for his faith, even to being imprisoned in the Tower of London.  The author shows him to be a man trying his hardest to obey his conscience and live out his convictions, but never makes him out to be a perfect man, or holier-than-thou.  The book also covers Penn’s tense relationship with his father and their reconciliation, how he won his wife, and how he acquired the land of Pennsylvania and forged peaceful relationships with its native inhabitants.  There are a few references to drinking wine or ale and smoking tobacco, but it is specifically noted that Penn was “no puffer of tobacco.”  One need not agree with all of Penn’s Quaker beliefs to admire his willingness to suffer for his faith, respect his stand for religious liberty, and appreciate his place in the history of our nation.

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