2007, Hillside Education, 141 pages, softcover, Catholic
Nancy Carpentier Brown’s newest book, The Father Brown Reader: Stories from Chesterton, is an adaptation of four of G.K Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. It’s a delightful and captivating read-aloud, as well as a perfect book to hand to a young child to read on his own. The four stories – The Blue Cross, The Strange Feet, The Flying Stars, and The Absence of Mr. Glass – are all easy reads, short enough to read in just one sitting. And be prepared to do so, because at the end of each chapter I always heard “just one more, please!” I bought the book intending to read it aloud to my 8-year old daughter and 10-year old son, but soon found that my 15-year old daughter always wanted to be within earshot as well.
Mrs. Brown has pared Chesterton’s already short stories down to the bone, and then broken them up into very short chapters of 2-3 pages each, in order to make them accessible to young readers.
However, she has in no way “dumbed them down”. She’s used Chesterton’s own words, including his unique phrasings. One such phrase was “elderly young woman”, which led to an interesting discussion of his use of those adjectives and what exactly Chesterton meant by them.
Mrs. Brown has also kept all the essential details so that even one who has never read the Father Brown mysteries previously can easily follow the clues and enjoy the fun of the surprise endings. She’s also included Chesterton’s subtle but powerful points of theology, including a discussion of the union of reason and faith.
These adaptations do not involve murder or any other truly unsavory situations, though petty theft, a mild chloroforming, and an apparent -- though not actual -- murder do figure into these innocent plots, adding just enough spice to keep the interest of readers (or listeners) of all ages.
There are a few helpful footnotes after each story. In some cases they are simply vocabulary definitions, in other cases pertinent comments on Chesterton’s fictional devices or historical elements of the story.
The black and white illustrations by Ted Schluenderfritz are delightfully charming. They add just the right touch to enhance, and never detract or distract from, the storyline.
This little book is a great way to get children started on lifelong enjoyment of the writing of G.K Chesterton.
Reviewed by Mary-Eileen Swart
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