HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Davy Crockett
Author: Constance Rourke
Illustrator: Walter Seaton
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press, republished 1998
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 (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Rourke, Constance. Davy Crockett (published in 1934 by Harcourt Brace and Company Inc.; republished in 1962 by Junior Deluxe Editions, Garden City, NY). Are you old enough to remember, “Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier”? Davy Crockett was not just a Walt Disney movie character. He was a real person who was born on August 17, 1786, in East Tennessee with a reputation for hunting and storytelling, married Polly Finley, moved to southern Tennessee on the Holston River, then moved again to West Tennessee near the boundary with the Mississippi Territory, was made a colonel in the militia of Lawrence County, TN, during the Creek Wars, was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1825, vehemently opposed many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, most notably the Indian Removal Act, was defeated in the 1835 election, departed for Texas, then a Mexican state, to take part in the Texas Revolution, and fought at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Do you know what happened to him there?
Author Constance Rourke (1885–1941), an American cultural historian, blended reality and myth to get at the heart of this nineteenth century frontiersman, soldier, politician, and American folk hero whose hold on the American imagination was firm even before his death. Her biography Davy Crockett was published in 1934 and was a 1935 Newbery Honor Book. One of the biggest complaints over the years about this book has been that it is more novel than biography. The fact is that it would make a great novel. Yes, the author does include a lot of the legends that arose around Davy Crockett, but they are an important part of what he has become in American folklore. Yet, she always clearly delineates between what we know as fact and what seems to be fiction. Crockett’s popularity was only enhanced when Disney made five-part serial of one-hour episodes about him from 1954 to 1955 starring Fess Parker which ABC aired on the Disneyland series. These were later released as two movies. Davy Crockett fans will enjoy reading about the real person behind the Disney character and they’ll learn some things about him that they probably never knew.
One professional reviewer, a female, wrote, “I don’t have too much to say about this book. It covers what is known of Davy Crockett’s life, from his birth through his death at the Alamo, and all of his journeys in between. It is peppered throughout with a number of legends about his feats, and often gives probable explanations for their sources. I found it a pretty dry read and a struggle to get through.” I guess that I can understand that coming from a “girl,” but no red-blooded, adventure-loving boy would find this book dull! Another professional reviewer, this one a male, said, “The author provides an interesting biography of one of America’s most famous pioneers. This is an unusual book in that Rourke took a modern approach to biography. She saves most of Crockett’s warts from exposure, but her attention to scholarship and her open conversation with the reader smack of a later age. Rourke also does a good job of explaining how much of what we know of Crockett is drawn from myth making (on his own) and by others. In any case, she limns an interesting portrait and gives the reader a clear understanding of life on the frontier.” I agree.