Thoreau of Walden Pond Critical Context - Essay

Sterling North

Critical Context

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

North began his prolific literary career with several fictional books for a juvenile audience, but by the 1950’s and 1960’s, he started to emphasize biography as his chosen genre. His subjects were usually Americans who had gained fame both for their accomplishments and for their forceful characters. These works included Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House (1956), George Washington, Frontier Colonel (1957), Young Thomas Edison (1958), Captured by the Mohawks, and Other Adventures of Radison (1960), and Mark Twain and the River (1961), all of which were intended for young adult readers. In 1963, he published an autobiographical account that incorporated his love for and experiences with raccoons, which was entitled Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. The remainder of North’s books focused on stories about these animals.

Thoreau of Walden Pond has become a classic juvenile biography because it takes an important, complex individual and renders his life and his theories of living understandable to a young reader. Thus, a chapter such as “A Walden Character” acts as a synopsis or abridged version of Thoreau’s Transcendentalist philosophy. Instead of paraphrasing or inventing dialogue, however—as had often been the case with earlier young adult biographies—North chooses to let Thoreau’s ideas be expressed in his own words with direct passages from Walden. Such authentic material presents a true portrait of this individual that is nevertheless comprehensible. Thoreau of Walden Pond is a fine introduction to the study of this philosopher.