Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Great Stone Face

The Great Stone Face is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne retold by Gary D. Schmidt. Vivid oil-on-canvas paintings accompany rich text to spin a tale emphasizing strength of character in a gorgeous New England setting.

In New Hampshire, there is a mountain whose profile resembles a strong, noble face. Ethan, the young main character, has always been intrigued by the prophecy surrounding the mountain, which says "Someone will be born hereabouts who will look just like the Great Stone Face, and he will be the noblest person of his time." Years go by, and various men return to the village having distinguished themselves in commerce or war. Every time one of these men returns, the villagers hope he will fulfill the prophecy. However, they soon realize that riches and fame do not make one noble or good.

Ethan is particularly disappointed when the Great Stone Face has no equal, but he continues to live his life with diligence and wisdom. Schmidt says, "His life was a stream that watered wide green banks all along its course, and every soul in the town who saw him smiled." Finally, Ethan's granddaughter points out that he resembles the Great Stone Face most of all. Ethan receives her praise with humility, in keeping with his noble character.

What I Like: The oil-on-canvas paintings are beautiful. Bill Farnsworth captures New England seasons and uses light and shadow to transport us into the very setting of the story. The images of the Great Stone Face remind me of the Crazy Horse monument in Custer, South Dakota. The face (an outcropping of rock) sits high above the village, and seems to beam down on it with a strong, benevolent profile. My children loved the paintings as well, as we visit relatives near Crazy Horse every summer.

My eight-year-old was especially enamored with the plot of The Great Stone Face. She is at a good age to appreciate noble character versus more "worldly" attributes such as fame and wealth. She also enjoyed the book because the ending was a bit of a surprise.

What I Dislike: In some of the paintings it is hard to tell who Ethan is and who the rich and famous men are supposed to be. Also, the text is fairly wordy and probably wouldn't hold the attention of readers much younger than 8.

Overall Rating: Very Good

Age Appeal: 5 and up.

Publisher Info: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2002; ISBN: 0-8028-5194-0; Hardcover, $16.00 (Paperback, $8.00)

Buy it Now at for $5.99

Special Information: There aren't any overt mentions of God or religion, even though the story is positive and celebrates good character.

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