Frontier Living Critical Essays

Edwin Tunis


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Tunis’ tone and style is more appropriate for the adult reader than young people at the lower end of the recommended age range. His diction often has a formal tone that may not appeal to young readers, as in this example: “A decoction of white walnut bark was believed to act as a purgative if the bark were peeled downward from the tree; upward peeling of the same bark produced an emetic!” The text is full of descriptions of tools and household items and all of the physical details of daily life on the frontier. Many of the terms used, such as “staves” (as in barrels), if not technical, are at least uncommon and may be unfamiliar to some adult readers and almost all young people. Most, however, are defined in context or clarified by an accompanying illustration.

Tunis’ use of unfamiliar words and phrases is in part attributable to his choice of subject matter, but his style is rendered even more dense by his preference for long, compound sentences and paragraphs packed with detailed information. The print size is small, and while the frequent illustrations help create white space, the total effect may be overwhelming to younger readers.

On the other hand, Tunis draws his readers in with the effective use of fictional techniques and humor. For example, he begins a sketch on childhood and sports by pointing out: “A boy growing up in the woods was quite untroubled by any thought of the three R’s, but he learned from babyhood the things he had to know for coping with a forest life.” Illustrations such as the picture of a team of oxen running away with a sled in the chapter “Beyond the Mississippi” often have a humorous touch. The illustrations are uniformly excellent; it is not surprising that they have been widely praised. As in Colonial Living, many of them...

(The entire section is 740 words.)