Friday, June 11, 2010

Key to the Prison

Church history can be dry territory. But in Key to the Prison, written by Louise A. Vernon and illustrated by Allan Eitzen, the history of the 1600s Quaker movement comes alive.

Shown through the eyes of Tommy Stafford, the son of a former Church of England pastor, the story is of George Fox, the founder of the Quaker -- or Friends -- movement.

Tommy's father has decided to leave the Church of England, which means trials and poverty for his family when the bishop evicts the family from the parsonage. Tommy's mother has heard of a man named George Fox, and is eager to see him in person, especially given the recent turn of events.

When Fox comes to the town where they live, the family's eyes are opened to what it means to be a Friend. Fox is openly persecuted for his "radical" beliefs: the church isn't a building but the people, men shouldn't take off their hats to other men since no man is above any other, God's spirit fills us and guides us, among other things. The Stafford family makes the decision to join with Fox, and must face the same persecution before heading to America to preach to the natives and colonists at the end of the book.

What I Like: History comes alive when told in novel form, and I think most youths would find this book more interesting than a regular history book. The writer avoided including some of the more controversial topics Quakers of that time believed.

What was discussed were sound biblical principles, such as the following quote attributed to George Fox in response to the accusation the Friends were forming an army to commit treason against England. Tommy asked of Fox how could such sincere-appearing people believe such things of the Quakers. Fox responded: "Fear and ignorance. People who do not have the light of God within them act blindly."

What I Dislike: While it's possible that America was referred to as "America" in this time frame (Amerigo Vespucci, the cartographer commonly considered the namesake of America, lived from 1454 - 1512), it bothered me the Quakers repeatedly referred to the continent in that way. As someone who tends to absorb tidbits of American history, I would find it much more likely they would refer to it as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, or one of the other colonies.

Also, there were a handful of footnotes throughout the book, one of which refers to a prophecy by Fox of the London fire of 1666. This is just one instance in which Fox prophesies certain events, and while they may have been accurate, as one who is skeptical of modern-day prophets, this made me uncomfortable.

There was no bibliography to support the historical aspects of this book. I would have appreciated additional resources to learn more.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: 9 - 14, though your child will probably want to keep a dictionary on hand to look up some archaic and large words (I repeatedly went to my dictionary during this read!)

Publisher Info: Herald Press, 1968; ISBN: 0-8361-1813-8; Paperback $8.99

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