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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates

It’s extraordinary how many adults fondly remember reading Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, despite the antiquated airs of this history-stuffed, 334-page novel first published in 1865. Against all odds, the story’s rosy-cheeked glow persists. The novel’s heart is the exciting story of poor but proud Hans and his sister, Gretel, whose father has been brain-damaged and sometimes violent for 10 years.

The sturdily self-reliant Hans and Gretel arrange for successful brain surgery, find the father’s buried treasure, and glide to glory in the annual skating race on the frozen canal.

Readers tend to pick at these thrilling highlights like raisins from the thick pudding of Dutch history that Dodge served up as a lesson in patriotism and civic duty. But there’s something hopeful and even touching about her view of children who are committed to helping other people.

Don’t sniff. You remember the story of the little boy (not Hans) who kept his finger in the hole in the dike? Well, it’s one of the stories that made its debut right here in the pages of Hans Brinker. B

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