Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Children's Book Review: The Matchlock Gun

The Matchlock GunThe Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds

This book is one I was considering as a read-aloud for next year to coincide with our study of early American history. It's based on the true tale of a ten year old boy who helps to defend his family when Indians raid while his father is away during the French and Indian War.

Studying any war requires a balance between understanding the struggles, fears and reasoning of the people who fought the war and realizing those same fears and reasons were not necessarily correct or may not be applicable any longer. Because this is a true story from the point of view of the colonial family, the Native Americans are depicted as terrifying and threatening, as indeed they were to settlers in that time. I think those views could be balanced for older children with discussions and additional books showing some of the atrocities committed by settlers.

Edward and his mother display tremendous courage during the attack. Edward, left alone in the house with his young sister and the matchlock gun (propped on a table because he could never lift it) also shows trust and instant obedience to his mother's instructions. Those qualities are wonderful to find in exciting stories such as this one.

However (Did you sense that coming?), I do not intend to read this to my children next year. I've mentioned before that death alone is no reason to avoid a book. Extreme violence is another matter. First of all, the Indians chase down Edward's mother, screaming a war cry, and strike her with a thrown tomahawk directly in front of him. She is still unconscious at the end of the book. Violent attacks on parents are reason for concern with my young children.

Secondly, and perhaps more disturbingly, Edward defends his home and family by firing the matchlock gun at his mother's command. The firing of the gun ends the attack but also kills three of the Indians. I can't say for certain how Edward felt about that, but I am not ready to consider the possibility of my son killing anyone. We are blessed to live in a time and place where such actions are unlikely but I want my children to recognize the face of God in all people, no matter the race or the crime. While First Son would be justified in killing people attacking our home in such a manner, I would expect him to be deeply saddened by such a need. This book, read at a young age, would not necessarily contribute to that goal.

I would consider this book as one for independent reading when he is older, perhaps ten (again, as part of a comprehensive history study of the time), but not in second grade. Perhaps others out there have read it with their children. Am I being too protective of him and the girls?

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