The Diary of an Early American Boy, Eric Sloane, Ballantine Books, 1965

It’s often hard to get kids interested in history; they just can’t see any connection between people who lived long ago and themselves.  This book is a good one for helping young people see that connection.

Diary of an Early American Boy is based on an actual boy’s diary from 1805 which Eric Sloane, the author and illustrator, found in an old house.  The diary is the record of the sixteenth year of Noah Blake who lived with his parents on a farm in Connecticut.

This book is based on an actual historic diary, it’s not one of those fictional “diaries” that have flooded the teen fiction market whose main characters strikingly resemble today’s teens in their self-absorption.  Sloane did take some liberties in padding out the journal entries, but it’s his explanations, and most of all his wonderful illustrations – based on actual facts about how people lived and thought in 1805 – that make the diary come alive.  Because Sloane is that wonderful combination of historian and artist who doesn’t just tell you how things were in long-ago times, he shows you.

A few of the things Sloane shows the reader in this book are: how maple trees are tapped and the sap boiled down to syrup, how bridges were built, how people kept warm in unheated church meeting houses in the winter, how grain was ground, how mill-wheels worked, how food was stored, how cider was made. There are too many to list.

Some will want to know if this is a “Christian book.”  Well, that depends on what you mean by that.  Noah Blake never refers to God or prays and there’s no expression of his faith. His family’s way of life certainly reflects Christian values but that was usual at that time.  He obviously honors his parents.  The family goes to Sunday meeting and reads the Bible.  In summary, there is no disrespect of God, Christians, or the Bible in this book, so I thinkit’s safe to say the Blake family had a Christian worldview, at least.

I love this book.  In fact, I love all Sloane’s books, but the three I like best are this one – Diary of an Early American Boy , A Reverence for Wood, and A Museum of Early American Tools.  My boys loved these three books so much that they read them to pieces and I had to keep buying new copies. 

After several years of this (and after used books became available on the internet) I learned that you can get our three favorite Sloane books bound together in one hardback volume that won’t fall apart called Sketches of America Past.  Used, of course, because it’s out of print. This was a popular gift book about 30 years ago and there are scads of them on the market, cheap.

There are two different publishers: Amaranth Press gives you a fancy imitation-leather binding with gold stamping and a pretty picture on the cover.  Right now, that one ranges from $5 to $10, including shipping.  The other publisher, Promontory Press, gives you the book with a tasteful scholarly cloth binding and paper dust jacket at about the same price.  Either way you get all three, hardbound, for about half what it would cost to get one of these titles new in paperback.

This is a great time to buy books!  Never before in the history of mankind have so many books been available, and thanks to the online used book market, never have they been available so cheaply.  Take advantage of this to invest in your children’s minds!  Invest in your grandchildren’s!  Bibliophiles of the past like Thomas Jefferson, who bankrupted himself by buying books, (they were costly then) would never be able to believe what we have available today.

So buy books!  Buy them used, buy them hardbound. Build a library for future generations!

Tolle lege!