Today in YA History: September 11, 1948 – ‘Johnny Tremain’ published!

September 11, 1948: Houghton Mifflin publishes Johnny Tremain. This classic novel by Esther Forbes set in Boston prior to and during the outbreak of the American Revolution.

This 1944 Newbery Medal winning historical fiction novel “for young and adult” follows 14-year-old Johnny as he interacts with some of history’s notables during the birth of American Revolution and some of the battlefields of that war. It is a popular novel to assign to students, and (in 2000) was listed as the 16th bestselling children’s book. Not bad, Johnny!

From Wikipedia:

    “The story begins in the Boston,… where protagonist Johnny Tremain is a promising young apprentice to silversmith Mr. Lapham. While preparing an order for prominent merchant John Hancock, Johnny’s hand is badly burned through the trickery of another apprentice. With only one good hand, Johnny can no longer be a silversmith and is forced to find a living elsewhere.

    After a series of unfortunate false starts, Johnny settles into a job with the Boston Observer newspaper, a Whig publication. There, Johnny is introduced to the larger world of pre-revolutionary Boston politic through the tension between Whigs and Tories. Johnny resolves to become a dedicated Whig himself.”

The story was made into a film of the same name by Walt Disney in 1957, starring Hal Stalmaster as Johnny Tremain and Luana Patten as Priscilla Lapham.

From Olivia: It’s strange, but this book is listed as a 1944 novel, so I have to assume that’s when she wrote it, and it did not receive full publication until 1948.

I read this novel in elementary school, and while I would love to give it a chance again now that I’m older and can probably better appreciate the story (plus… I’ve since developed an actual love of history), this story is one I remember for very strange reasons. As a child, I was horrified of the idea that someone might be named Dorcas and that other girls would find that a prettier name than Priscilla, to start. But more importantly, this was when I learned about double-entendres and actually understood them. The Doctor asked if Johnny’s crippled hand was “the will of God”; since Johnny had been breaking the rule to keep Sunday’s holy and not work them, he FELT it was God’s will and so said yes, when the Doctor meant if Johnny had been born with the crippled hand. It’s random, it’s obscure, but hey! It works for me. :)

Give this old classic a read yourself or buy it for the young people in your life who might enjoy a dose of American history at your local Independent bookstore!

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