Title: Hans Brinker: or The Silver Skates
Author: Mary Mapes Dodge
Publisher: Aladdin Classics
Alethea’s Review (at age 12)
“Hans and Gretel. How cute,” was my first impression upon reading this book. Which has absolutely no bearing on my review, but I thought you’d like to know.
First published in 1865, this story recounts the tale of Hans Brinker, a fifteen-year-old boy whose father is not quite right in his brain, but who still manages to be of good faith, honest, and cheerful.
Through this story, Hans searches for a cure for his father, the brain surgeon looks for his lost son, and everybody skates. A lot. Of course, since there are a lot of canals and skating places in Holland, that’s hardly surprising, but the title “The Silver Skates” actually refers to the prize for a skating competition which Hans and Gretel participate in.
Actually, the story doesn’t just tell the story of Hans and his family, though they have a large part. It really tells the story of life in Holland—the families, the customs, the scenery. It tells the story of a group of boys who skate along the river to a different town, only to find that their money is gone. It tells the story of Saint Nicholas and the festival named after him. Most of all, it tells the story of children, and how they are the same around the world.
I daresay at least a quarter of this book is description. Not that I mind, of course—it makes the story flow better if you understand the world Hans and his family live in. However, the description does slow the plot down a bit. It’s still a lovely plot, but it’s not like, say, Harry Potter, because J. K. Rowling (no offence to her) focuses mostly on storyline, but Dodge was (in my opinion) trying to give her audience a story that would delight them, while satisfying their imagination (hence the description). I think she also wanted to give them a story that would stay with them for a long time, which is why she chose hard-working, helpful, friendly Hans—someone kids could identify with and yet look up to.
Also, as I’ve already said, this book’s plot is interesting, but not for you if you like long, convoluted, hard-to-follow plots. This is a simple book, meant to provide a quiet evening’s entertainment for children in the 19th century. It’s a book that you soak in, not one that you devour. You should read it slowly and carefully, and just enjoy the phrasing and the characters.
And though it is a rather moralistic book, its lessons are taught quietly, slipping into your brain before you know it. Hans and Gretel are just kids, but obedience, humility, honesty, and many other virtues are shown in their lives.
I sincerely recommend this book for anyone looking for, as I’ve said, a quiet day’s reading.
Warning: Lots and lots of drama, insanity, and some violence on the part of Hans’ father. Also some tension in the brain surgeon’s family.