Esther Forbes won the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1942 for her adult novel Paul Revere and the World He Lived In. Her research for that book inspired her to write Johnny Tremain, published in 1943. It won the Newbery Medal of Honor for children’s literature.
Dawn is breaking in Boston, and Mrs. Lapham is calling the three apprentices and her own children to hurry up and get downstairs. Her threat is not very menacing because Mr. Lapham’s knees are too bad and Mrs. Lapham, his daughter-in-law, is too large to climb up the ladder and give them a good shaking to get them moving. Fourteen-year-old Johnny Tremain rousts the others from bed as he dresses for the day. Although he has only been an apprentice in the silversmith shop for two years, he is clearly the leader of the boys. Dove, a large, lazy, pale boy who has been apprenticing for four years, has always resented Johnny’s prodding and autocratic leadership. Young Dusty, much smaller of stature, both loves and resents Johnny. Everyone else likes Johnny because he is skilled both with people and with his hands. Mr. Lapham tells him often he has a God-given gift and should not act superior around the other boys, but Johnny does not particularly listen. The youngest two of Mrs. Lapham’s four fatherless daughters trade good-natured insults with Johnny as part of a morning ritual. Old Mr. Lapham uses his early morning time to read his Bible. It has already been decided that one day, after his seven years of apprenticing are over, Johnny and Cilla, the third daughter, will marry and Johnny will take over the business. Johnny is content with this plan. The house and silversmith shop are located on Hancock’s Wharf, and this morning the bustle of activity is going on as usual.
At breakfast, Johnny is asked to do the Bible-reading today; he is the best reader at the table, thanks to his dead mother. Cilla cannot read but wants to learn, and Johnny helps her follow along as he reads. Mr. Lapham often chooses Scripture passages designed to send a message to the reader; today’s readings are all about the sin of excessive pride. After a brief discussion, the old master asks Johnny to vow he will be more humble and modest; a disgruntled Johnny soon storms out of the house. As the day begins, Johnny keeps his vow for just a short time and is soon pointing out the faults in both workers and workmanship. Although Mr....
(The entire section is 9360 words.)
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Johnny Tremain enables the reader to envision daily life in the tumultuous days just before the American Revolution. The book deals with a particularly crucial time in Johnny's life, as he makes decisions involving his future and his values. Although Johnny's story takes place over two centuries ago, many of the problems he encounters as he matures remain relevant today. The hero of Johnny Tremain presents a positive model as he experiences hardship and despair but eventually grows into a sensitive and responsible young man.
(The entire section is 85 words.)