Hans Brinker: The Silver Skates
by Mary Mapes Dodge, May Audubon Post (Illustrator)
4 out of 5 stars
Hans and his sister Gretel are poor. Their father was injured years ago and left with brain damage, so it is up to their mother to support the family. Hans tries to get work, but there are no jobs available in the winter time in Holland.
All the children in their village are excited for a grand skating race that will be held after Christmas, but Hans and Gretel only have cheap wooden skates that Hans made himself.
One of my favorite books as a child! Love it! There are so many elements to the story, and yet it is simple and pretty. The writing is so charming and sweet! The plot kept my interest, and I got so attached to the characters.
Hans is such a plucky character, and it was heart-breaking to see him striving so earnestly to help his family, even when it meant a personal sacrifice for him, like not being able to participate in the skating race. He is honorable and hard-working, always ready to do the right thing no matter the cost.
Gretel is sweet and cute, and her family really rely on her to bring cheerfulness and affection into their home. When her father acts strangely because of his mental damage, Gretel is the one who knows how to calm him by singing his favorite songs. Gretel is the emotional compass of the family.
A great deal of the story does not follow Hans or Gretel, but a group of boys from their village who are taking a sight-seeing trip to neighboring towns and cities. Peter is the leader of the group, and they are joined by a British boy, Benjamin, who is visiting his Dutch cousin. Through their sight-seeing, they talk a lot about the history of Holland, educating the reader about various battles, famous people, scientific achievements, and beautiful architecture.
I especially loved the scenes that show particular traditions of Dutch culture at the time. There is a scene where the boys visit a church to hear some beautiful music at a church service, and they are in awe of the wonderful music. I loved that scene, because it shows the rich culture and appreciation for the arts!