1942: The Matchlock Gun (Big Gun = dead Indians)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3

The 1942 Newbery Medal Winner, The Matchlock Gun, is a very concise retelling of a family story. It takes place in 1756 during French/Indian raids into upstate New York. Teunis, the father, leaves with the militia to watch for “marauding Indians”. Gertrude, the mother, fears Indian attack on their house, should the Indians slip around the militia. She figures out a way to mount her great-grandfather’s matchlock gun so that her 10-year-old son Edward can fire it. Then, Gertrude goes out to pick beans and watch for trouble.

It comes in the form of five Indians. Gertrude takes a tomahawk to the shoulder, but makes it to the door, and the Matchlock Gun dispenses with 3 of the 5 intruders. The rest run away. The house is set alight and Edward briefly knocked unconscious from the kick of the gun. All of the family survived and the matchlock was passed down through the generations, along with the story.

At 50 pages (including many pictures), this is one of the shortest entries in the Newbery Medal roll. However, the author chose the right amount of material to present in the space. He created a fairly interesting story which accurately depicted the daily life of a colonial family; he doesn’t valorize the killing of Native Americans, instead presenting it as a defense necessary in the context of French/Indian raids. Although there is one dehumanizing description of Native Americans, the book is much less racist than Daniel Boone, if only for lack of space. I love that the whole story highlights the ingenuity of Gertrude and those “left behind” when the men marched off. Additionally, the illustrations are excellent and coordinate well with the story, enhancing it greatly.

I liked this book. It’s a fast read and would be great for younger children, especially if you’re willing to talk about why the Native Americans were attacking settlers. Please, start early and help avoid the mythologization and binary teaching of history.

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