HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Boy With a Pack
Author: Stephen W. Meader
Illustrator: Edward Shenton
Publisher: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1939
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 13-18
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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Meader, Stephen W. Boy With a Pack (published in 1939 by Harcourt Brace and World Inc., 757 Third Ave., New York City, NY 10017). It is 1837, and seventeen-year-old Bill Crawford, whose parents are dead, lives in Fairfield, NY, with his brother and sister-in-law Wash and Jenny. Wash works in the local woolen mill, but Bill doesn’t want a job sweeping at the mill, and besides the mill isn’t hiring. So, refusing to be licked by the hard times, he puts every cent that he owns into a tin trunk full of “Yankee notions” and sets out afoot from New Hampshire, crosses Vermont, ‘York State traveling the Erie Canal, and Pennsylvania, and tramps southward to the Ohio Country as a peddler. Along the way, he acquires a dog named Jody, a mare named Martha, and the mare’s foal which he names Bub.
Bill also encounters Alonzo Peel, a crooked Vermont horse-dealer who nearly murdered Bill for his trade goods; Mary Ann Bennett, the cook aboard Buck Hoyle’s canal boat who goes off with Bill and is chased by Hoyle but then leaves Bill to flee to Ohio; and Banjo, an escaped slave who is being sought by his owner Ransome Cawley and whom Bill works with local Quakers to help escape to safety. Can Bill ever find Mary Ann? Does he decide to return home or stay in Ohio? And will Cawley catch Bill with Banjo and shoot him? Stephen W. Meader was a social worker and a prolific author of historical fiction adventure novels for young people, especially for teenage boys.
There are several common and colloquial euphemisms (golly, gosh, gee, darned, tarnation, by gum, gol-dinged) but no cursing or profanity. Mention is made of smoking a pipe, chewing tobacco, and drinking beer. However, the story, which was a 1940 Newbery Honor book, does an excellent job giving the reader an understanding of what life was like during our nation’s westward migration in the early nineteenth century, especially Bill’s time working on the Erie Canal, with the detailed descriptions of the way things worked, like the stalls in the bows, and how canal boats and their teams of horses were able to pass one another on the same towpath in both directions without getting tangled up. Also, as a native Ohioan, I found that Meader’s descriptions of Ohio’s geography were extremely accurate. It is a great book.