Jack and Praiseworthy must use their wits and resourcefulness if they are to strike it rich in California’s goldfields in this funny middle grades novel.
*By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 1988 (reprint, original date 1963). 224 pages.
Reading Level: Ages 10-12
Recommended For: Ages 8-12 as an independent read; all ages as a family read aloud
A scoundrel stole their money, forcing Jack and Praiseworthy to stow away on the Lady Wilma instead of paying for regular passage. To a fine, elegant butler like Praiseworthy, sleeping in potato barrels was rather humiliating, not to mention undignified. To a twelve-year-old boy running away to seek his fortune in the goldfields, “stowaway” was an auspicious beginning to a life of adventure. Jack and Praiseworthy do make it to the goldfields; along the way, they manage to bring justice to the thief who stole their money, earn their keep aboard ship, rescue a pig, and save several folks from financial ruin.
California puts their resourcefulness to test, but Jack and Praiseworthy are not the sort to back down from a challenge or to go back on their word, even if it does mean buying a box of random neckties at an auction or agreeing to fight the “Mountain Ox,” a Goliath of a man. Do they strike it rich? Do they make enough money to save Aunt Arabella’s house back in Boston? You’ll have to read it to find out.
By the Great Horn Spoon is an absolute delight of a book. Fleischman has a way with words that is both funny and brilliant. His use of figurative language, in particular, makes this book a rollicking read.
Clever wordplay and wit isn’t enough, though. Fleischman gives us characters who show tremendous character growth and admirable qualities. Praiseworthy is nothing if not self-controlled and resourceful, even in the direst of circumstances. His calm demeanor and insistence to Jack that they be men of their word is just the sort of mentoring Jack needs. As Jack matures–he even learns to drink coffee!–he comes to recognize what’s really important in life. The two of them consistently treat the people around them well, are always willing to help someone out even at cost to themselves, and form a strong family bond between themselves.
This is the sort of book that might not mention the Lord, but the characters certainly display the type of behavior that we Christians would do well to emulate!
Cautions: Language (one use of “jackass” but it’s referring to a donkey); worldview (casual historical racism crops up; it’s not intended to be a slight, but the terms used would be more carefully handled today)
Overall Rating: 4.75/5
- Artistic Rating: 5
- Worldview Rating: 4.5
Some examples of the terrific figurative language:
Dark cliffs seemed to hang like draperies from the misty sky, and then the weather closed in again and they were gone.p. 56
Far below, the pine trees looked to Jack like sharp green lances waiting to skew them if they slipped. He only looked once in a while.p. 113
“Why, your ears shine like new-minted gold pieces.”p. 120