Friday, September 9, 2016

The Courage of Sarah Noble and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, by Alice Dalgliesh

The Courage of Sarah Noble and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, by Alice Dalgliesh
Aladdin Books

Rating: 4 stars

The other day I was at our new neighbor's house, checking out the impressive homeschool supplies she has laying out on her dining room sideboard. Books! Workbooks! Lesson plans! Books! Art supplies! And more. But really, she had me at books. I was having trouble paying attention to the answer to my own question about homeschooling while I browsed through the large stack of middle grade books. It was so fun to see what books she had lined up for her boys for the year.

My favorite of all favorite book genres, middle grade is where it's at for me (memoirs come second)--mostly, I think, because there are happy endings. (I'm just not ready for Young Adult, which comes next, which are about super serious topics such as substance abuse, sex, and suicide and can leave you with a lurch-y feeling at the end.)

These two little middle grade books, both by Alice Dalgliesh, The Courage of Sarah Noble and The Bears on Hemlock Mountain were among the stack in my neighbor's house. We have Courage on our Newbery shelf, so I checked out Bears from our new library. Lorelei read them first, and I read them a few days later. They are very short reads, thus making them really good first chapter books or books you can read with your child if their desire for and interest in long, drawn-out plots is still building.

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain, written first in 1952 and a Newbery Honor book, is about a boy named Jonathan, whose mother asks that he climb up over the local mountain (really, a "big hill," he says of its size) to fetch a large pot from his aunt on the other side. Jonathan has heard rumors of bears on Hemlock Mountain, but his uncles and mother all shake their heads at this rumor. But Jonathan doesn't believe them. He sets out, a little nervous. When he returns with the pot after several delays, guess who he runs into?

This is a nice coming-of-age story set in the 18th century with good pacing and an adventurous topic, and I really liked it. Jonathan's solution to hiding from the bears is great, and I love how he calls his father out when his father comes to retrieve him on the mountain with many hunter friends, each with his own rifle. "Rifles? So you did know there are bears on Hemlock Mountain!"

The Courage of Sarah Noble, written two years later in 1954 and another Newbery Honor book, is an early version of Laura Ingalls in two ways: First, it was written before Ingalls' books; second, Sarah is just eight years old, younger (I think, if I remember correctly) than Laura was when she first moves West. Sarah and her father travel together to set up their home in Connecticut, leaving behind her mother and siblings until the house is ready for them. Sarah helps cook for her father, then, after befriending them for what seems to be a short time, stays with a local Native family while her father goes to fetch the rest of the family.

Sarah reminds herself to "have courage!" throughout the book, and it's a nice reminder that little acts of courage are often required in children's daily lives--courage to be honest, courage to be kind, courage to speak up for something unfair or wrong. The story is inspired by real-life settlers in 1707, and sure, it's dated. Sarah's initial comments of the Native Indians made me cringe a little, but by the time her mother arrives and has similar opinions of them, Sarah defends the Natives she's grown to love. Sarah's maturation, fortitude, and yes, courage, are sweet and inspiring.

What was the most fun for me, though, was debating with Lorelei which was the better book. I was surprised she liked Sarah Noble better--I liked Bears on Hemlock Mountain a bunch more. Who really cares who was right...the more important thing was that I had a nice long conversation with my daughter about the lives of two children who lived long ago as we walked our puppy along our new road. Books continue to be one of the many bonds between my daughter and me, and I'm counting my lucky stars for that!

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