Picture Book Spotlight: Henry Hikes to Fitchburg

March 9, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Filed under: Books, Fun Learning Stuff, Picture Book Spotlight

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B. Johnson.

One summer day, Henry and his friend decided to go to Fitchburg to see the country.

“I’ll walk,” said Henry. “It’s the fastest way to travel.”

“I’ll work,” Henry’s friend said, “until I have the money to buy a ticket to ride the train to Fitchburg. We’ll see who gets there first!”

So begins this charming tale based on a passage written by Henry David Thoreau. “One says to me,” Thoreau wrote, “‘I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country.’ But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.”

D.B. Johnson brings Thoreau’s message to life in the adventures of the amiable bear, Henry. While Henry’s friend works his tail off filling Mrs. Alcott’s woodbox (10 cents) and weeding Mr. Hawthorne’s garden (15 cents), Henry enjoys a long tramp across the countryside, pressing ferns, marveling at birds’ nests, and snacking on honey from a bee tree as he goes. His friend may earn the money that buys the fastest ride to Fitchburg, but Henry’s journey is the one that enriches the soul.

Lots to explore in this lovely book (including the identities of the neighbors who employ Henry’s friend at various odd jobs). We’ve had a soft spot for Thoreau around here every since Jane, as a tiny girl, adopted a pocket-sized copy of Walden. Enchanted by the novelty of a toddler-sized book full of important-looking, clearly-meant-for-grownups text, she carried that thing around until it was in tatters. At age three she would solemnly pretend to read it aloud: “New York City is a big house.” (I have no idea.) At age four, an eager reader, she puzzled her way through the bean-growing chapter and declared that Walden was her favorite book. That dog-eared little volume has long since disappeared, and her passion for Walden Pond dissipated the first time she entered Redwall Abbey, but our family fondness for Thoreau remains, and we were delighted to encounter him in the form of D. B. Johnson’s Henry the Bear.

Edited to add: there’s a follow-up to this post here.

For more recommendations, visit my Booknotes page.


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