My Contract with Henry
by Robin Vaupel, published 2003
“Mrs. Stark’s classroom was an unlikely place to meet a rebel. So when we opened our literature books to a new chapter on Monday I was shocked to see a person who actually looked interesting. Henry David Thoreau was standing at the bottom of the page…”
For anyone who loves the transcendentalists, and especially teaching children about them, this children’s book is a treasure. It’s fiction, but one wishes it were really true, as it chronicles four eighth-grade students who take on building and living in a cabin like Thoreau’s. While the experiment is part of a class experiment, it leads not only to personal change, but unprecedented social action for the entire school.
I love a children’s book that gives us a glimpse of the possibility of transformation that comes from reading. Many adults are transformed by reading Thoreau’s Walden, yet we don’t often realize how profoundly the book can affect children as well. I’ve taught twelfth-grade students and found they really could go deep with it.
I like that this children’s book is geared to younger students (11 to 14) because they don’t often get exposed to Thoreau at this age, yet it’s a perfect time to encounter him. I also appreciate that the book addresses environmental concerns and overdevelopment head-on. The author is not afraid of taking a direct stand on the impact of development on our environment.
This children’s book works well for many themes: environment, independence, simplicity living, etc. A great read!