The Matchlock Gun


The Matchlock Gun
Walter D. Edmonds (1942)

Read to:  2nd - 3rd grade
Read independently:  4th - 5th grade
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     There is a foreword by the author who explains the origin of this tale and claims it to be true.  it seems several of the book club books I have read recently have forwards that purport truth but indeed are really just fictional wrap-arounds on a fictional story.  Caddie Woodlawn had a foreword that I found believable but this one I just can't commit to.  I'm not saying its not true - I'm just saying ti doesn't strike me as strong enough to make me a believer.  Regardless - we read on...In size and illustration this book reminds me of Elmer and the Dragon.  The illustrations are a bit unusual.  There is one page with a black and white drawing of the matchlock gun with the powder horn hanging above and a quote from the book which is on a nearby page but not necessarily the facing page.  The next two pages are a colored illustration that depicts the quote.  The coloring is odd.  It looks like when you make a print on your inkjet and your cartridge is running low on one of the C/Y/B colors.  The book is short and takes approximately one week to read averaging twenty minutes a night. 

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     It is the story of the family of Teunis Van Alstyne (Dutchman), his wife Gertrude (Palatine) and their two children, Eduard and Trudy.  Teunis is a captain in the Guilderland militia.  Much is made about their nationality and being from different backgrounds although it never really comes into play.  I suppose this might be a source of underlying tension between Gertrude and her mother-in-law which could influence a key decision Gertrude makes - but this supposed tension is only hinted at and probably missed by most kids since it's not really something they can relate to.

     So obviously this story is about a gun - odd topic for a children's book but someone in history thought it acceptable...so we read on.   Over the Van Alstyne's fireplace hangs a gun which Teunis' grandfather brought over from Holland.  It is not a traditional gun but must be lit like a cannon.

     Edward is rather mature for a ten year old and by the end of the story is given a LOT of responsibility.  Conversely, Trudy, for a six year old is rather babyish.  such as when she repeats a fun sounding phrase, laughs, "clapped her hands and jumped up and down in delight" (p. 5).  There is a threat of Indians and Teunis goes off to fight with the militia believing the threat won't come as far as their home.  And if they did the family could seek safety at his mom's compound.

     The two children sleep in the same loft, the house is heated by fire and for whatever reason Trudy is described as plump.  I think this is a sign of the times when plumpness was synonymous with healthy and well-feed and there were no concerns of childhood obesity.

     For kids (or parents) who are sensitive to violence this may not be an appropriate selection.  As early as page 20 we get a report from a militiaman who says, "Teunis says to tell you everything is all right.  But the French Indians are burning the upper settlements.  People have been killed."

     What this book contains in violence it lacks in modern day sensitivity.  When Trudy dons an old shawl she is described as looking, "like a comical dwarf woman with fat legs" (p. 22 - 23).  Again, I think it is just a sign of the times but if you struggle to keep your kids' comments under control you might need to either explain or edit.

     There is an encounter towards the end of the book, after much build up, that has quite an intense aftermath which, for purposes of determining whether or not this book is suitable for your child, I excerpt here:

     (p. 43) Then a flashing pain entered her shoulder at the back and she was flung against the door.  She knew the Indians had thrwon a tomahawk at her.  A second, missing her, entered the door beside her face.
     (p. 44)  Then the gun roared, shattering the glass, and the butt, striking him fair in the chest, carried him backward off the stool.
     He was not aware of it; he was not aware of anything till he (p. 45) heard Trudy screaming.  That woke him up to the fact that he was lying on the floor of the kitchen with the Spanish Gun like a log on top of him.  ...
     He managed to wriggle out from under the gun, but the pain in his chest was so great that he could do nothing except crawl on hands and knees...  He crawled through to see the stoop ablaze, his mother lying on it like a dead person, and little Trudy desperately lugging at the handle of an Indian axe fast in their mother's shoulder.  For an instant he could not take it in.  Then he realized that the fire was almost to his mother's skirt.
     He ordered Trudy to let go of the axe and help him drag their (p. 46) mother off the stoop.
     ...
     "Is Mother killed?" asked Trudy.
     Edward did not know, but he said she was alive.

     We believe there is a happy ending but the last official report we have is that the other is still unconscious.

     I personally try to limit the violence my son is exposed to.  We don't have violent video games and utilize TV ratings and locks to help maintain the innocence of TV shows although he does watch Lego Ninjago.  I don't consider that violence.  I guess the distinction we try to make is that defending against an enemy is okay but fighting for fighting sake is not.  Since we live in an area where there are a lot of hunters and boys typically begin hunting with their fathers at a young age - I try not to be too over the top about removing violence from my 6y8m son's world.  Still, I had second thoughts about reading a book about a gun as a bedtime story.  My son did not seem bothered in the least.  I think there is plenty of value that can be gained from this story and a brief discussion of these values can dispell any damage the story could potentially do.  The values are:  teamwork, following directions, bravery and insight into the settling of U.S. territories.
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