By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman is a great book for all school children and adults and an absolutely fabulous homeschooling read. Don’t be put off by the cover of this book. Sid manages to portray the harsh times of the California Gold Rush with gentleness and humour.
By the Great Horn Spoon! takes place during the California Gold Rush in January, 1849. (Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill about one year before.) Jack Flagg is a twelve-year old orphan who decides to run away to California and find gold in order to save the family home and support his Aunt Arabella and his sisters, Constance and Sarah.
Jack and the elegant butler, Praiseworthy, are forced to stow away on the Lady Wilma when their passage money is stolen on the crowded docks of Boston Harbor. Once at sea, Jack and Praiseworthy meet Captain Swain, the “Wild Bull of the Seas,” who is engaged in a race to San Francisco with the Sea Raven Praiseworthy, with Jack’s help and the use of Good Luck, a pig, is able to deduce the identity of the“cut-purse” who stole their money. Cut-Eye Higgins is sent to the coal furnaces. Jack thinks Praiseworthy is able to do just about anything and wishes that the butler would be less formal with him and act more like a friend. The Sea Raven beats their ship into the harbor of Callao, Peru, and leaves with all the coal to be had. However, this turns out to be the undoing of the Sea Raven.
It is now too heavy, and at Praiseworthy’s suggestion, the Lady Wilma burns the lumber in her hold and sails into San Francisco to win the race. In the gold fields, Jack and Praiseworthy are befriended by a miner who shows them how to dig and allows them to work on his claim. Jack, who found a picture of his aunt in Praiseworthy’s carpetbag, tells the butler he ought to ask Aunt Arabella to marry him. Praiseworthy feels he does not have the social standing to consider this and reluctantly dismisses the thought. Jack and Praiseworthy run into Cut-Eye Higgins again just as the thief is about to be hanged.
They save him for a bit, but are forced to dig his grave. While digging, they discover gold and quickly stake their claim. They board the riverboat Rich Men. But on the way back to San Francisco, the boiler of the riverboat explodes, and their gold dust ends up on the bottom of the bay.
It is about a boy and his butler (a very Jeeves character) who set off to make a fortune in the Gold Rush - and have lots of adventures en-route! They begin by stowing away on a steamboat bound for California. A good deal of the beginning of the book is about the journey. Once they get to California, there are detailed descriptions of what life was like as a gold miner. We enjoyed the history of the tale, and we discussed the economics of the times. The book ends with a clever twist that we really enjoyed. All in all, we were sorry that we had finished the book. We had really got to like the two main characters, Jack and Praisworthy, and are sorry there aren't more books of their adventures!
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