Review of Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood

I try to read as many interesting books as I can. Some are recommended by friends, some by the smart computers and preference interpreters of Amazon, and some I seem to just stumble into because of a catchy title or an indescribable quality. Huck's Raft by Steven Mintz definitely fits into this final category. I have worked as a youth camp director for a number of years, so the idea of historically tracking the roots of modern day American childhood seemed utterly fascinating to me. We look back in our culture today through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia and see previous generations' children unencumbered by media like television, the internet, movies, and smart phones. It is as if they lived in a veritable Garden of Eden in our cultural minds, untouched by violent video games and free to blow the seeds off daffodils and climb trees until nightfall. Mintz does a wonderful job of dispelling this misconceived version of events. Instead, he reminds the reader of the awfulness children were exposed to over the years - disease, famine, child labor (in the factories and on the farms), abuse, lack of legal protections and war (many soldiers in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars were in their teens). He also tracks the sentiment of philosophers, philanthropists, middle class families and policy makers as protecting American children transferred from solely a parental responsibility to being written into law. Overall, as a piece of understanding American history and culture, I highly recommend this work, and think that it might provide an interesting opportunity for students looking for a different angle in an American History writing assignment.


Matthew B.

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