I get chilly just thinking about the setting. Ice-skating on frozen canals, damp chill winds forcing their way through the walls of a poor man’s hovel, greed, disaster, perseverance – Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates is a great book to review in the middle of winter. I loved the Disney movie of the same title when I was a kid, and I love the book even more.
Hans Brinker makes for a great read-aloud to almost any age group. At age fifteen, Hans, his twelve-year-old sister Gretel, and his mother have suffered in poverty for ten years due to an accident that befell his father as he worked on the dikes in Holland. The family had money, but only the father knew where it was, and the brain damage from his accident left him unable to reveal its hiding place.
As the story progresses, we meet several of the teens in the village, and as is usual, some are worthy of admiration, others not. Tensions build while all of them prepare for a speedskating race, the winner of which will win silver skates, one pair for the victor of the boys’ competition, another pair for the girls’ champion. Hans and Gretel hope to win so they can trade in the skates for needed money. In case, you’ve never read the book, I won’t give away the ending, but it’s not necessarily what you might expect. Doing the right thing and self-sacrifice dominates the climax.
The race is not the ultimate aim of the story, though, only the external goal. The other threads of plot unveil so much more of the character of the protagonists – and I could name at least six protagonists in this tale of complications and coincidences. Reading the story as a family can initiate questions like: “Would I have been so kind in the same situation?” “Have I ever been rude like Carl?” “Would I have become bitter like the doctor?” “Would I have helped Gretel or turned away?”
Christians want to please God and live out Philippians 4:8 in as many practical ways as we can find. Hans Brinker is one of those wonderful books that beckons us to rise to great heights of nobility. Humility, honesty, integrity, and selflessness shine through the heroes, even in the midst of great adversity.
I want my children and grandchildren to grow in these graces. I want to continue to grow in these qualities, and one way all of us can grow is to read books, be they classics like Hans Brinker or modern novels like Salvaged. That’s one of the reasons Scriblerians exists. We try to point you to books worth reading, books that build up your spirit. Keep reading!