Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Henry David Thoreau: A biography

Henry David Thoreau: A biography

Milton Meltzer
For ages 12 and up
Lerner, 2006   ISBN: 978-0822558934

Henry was a quiet boy who loved to explore nature, going for long walks and getting to know the names of as many birds and flowers as he could. He was also clever and when he outgrew the local school his parents scraped together the money so that he and his brother could go to the Concord Academy. Here he did well enough that he was able, at the age of sixteen, to enter Harvard College. This time the entire family had to pitch in the help pay for the fees including his sister, his brother, and his aunts. It was during his time at Harvard that Henry began to really write essays for the first time and also it was during this time that Henry first began to have the sever attacks of tuberculosis which would dog him for the rest of his life.

When he left Harvard Henry got a job as a teacher but it soon became clear that he was going to have problems teaching in traditional schools because Henry refused to beat his students. Corporal punishment was standard treatment in those days but gentle Henry did not believe in it and would not do it. So he left his job and could not find another teaching post. So he went to work for his father in the family pencil factory where he did very well helping to improve the quality of the product to such a degree that the family was much better off and Thoreau pencils were considered the best of their kind.

It was around this time that Henry became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, the writer and philosopher. Emerson had an enormous impact on Henry, encouraging him to give lectures, to write, and to try new things which would change Henry’s life. Emerson also introduced Henry to all kinds of interesting people who influenced Henry in many ways and he opened doors for Henry, giving him opportunities which he would not have otherwise been able to have.

With Emerson’s encouragement Henry began to give lectures on a variety of topics and he began to submit articles to journals and newspapers. Then, in 1845 Henry decided that he needed some time away from the hustle and bustle of the world to write a book and Emerson agreed to allow Henry to build a little cabin on a piece of land that he owned next to Walden Pond. Henry built his tiny cabin and it was here that he wrote his famous book “Walden.”

Many of us have heard of “Walden” and have read it, and may even know the story of the man who built the little cabin in the woods so that he might have some solitude and peace. What many of do not know, is that Henry David Thoreau was not a hermit who cut himself off from the world. Even during the years when he lived at Walden Pond he went to visit friends and family frequently. And, one has to keep in mind that he was not at Walden Pond for long. For most of his life he was living in Concord working in one way or another, writing, and lecturing. To make ends meet he would help in the family pencil factory, do carpentry jobs, do odd jobs around the house, and take on surveying projects.

He was also a man who had strong beliefs. If he did not like something, he was not one to stand by quietly and do nothing. So, when runaway slaves needed help getting to Canada Henry was more than willing to do what he could to send them on their way, even though he could get into trouble for doing so. He was even willing to go to prison for his beliefs, and on one occasion he did.

Readers will be fascinated to find out that Henry David Thoreau was a lot more complicated than they might have imagined he was. A strong minded man, an incredibly gifted writer, and a lover of nature, he lived a full life and left behind a marvelous literary legacy. With numerous photographs, informational boxes, and quotes, this superbly researched and carefully presented book will give readers a splendid portrait of a fascinating man.