May 11, 2016

Book Review: The Chestertons and the Golden Key

A friend of mine recently wrote a book about GK and Frances Chesterton that is designed for young readers - entitled The Chestertons and the Golden Key. I met Nancy Carpentier Brown through a local homeschooling group and have been fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of her homeschool advice and to see the development of her career as an author and an expert in G.K. and Frances Chesterton’s lives and work. I am also pleased to be able to attend as many meetings as possible of our local chapter of the G.K. Chesterton Society where we meet to enjoy each other’s company, have a drink, and discuss a selection from Chesterton’s writings.

So, who exactly were Frances and G.K. Chesterton, and why would I want to introduce them to my children through this book? Great question – Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was a prolific author whose prophetic writings clearly depict the downfalls of modern society and a lack of common sense which seems to have blossomed as of late.  His book The Everlasting Man led to the conversion of a young atheist, C.S. Lewis.  Yes, that C.S. Lewis.  He was also a great author of detective stories, the most famous of which is The Blue Cross. As Dale Ahlquist, the founder of the American Chesterton Society points out, Chesterton cannot be described in a few paragraphs, so I encourage you to find out more. Frances was his wife, his inspiration and partner, and a poet in her own right.  Nancy Brown has also written her biography which can be found here.

Nancy Brown’s latest book, The Chesterons and the Golden Key, is an engaging read for the beginning chapter book level reader. It also makes a great read-aloud.  The vocabulary is challenging enough to incite some learning, but not so obscure as to frustrate young readers. The chapters are short, with lovely illustrations interspersed throughout.  As a read aloud for bedtime, it should last for a week, with the kids begging for “just one more chapter,” so they can solve the mystery of the golden key.

A family story, and based on a real relationship the Chestertons had with the Nicholls family, we find a young single parent family headed by a grieving widow who live in the seaside town of Lyme Regis.  They have 6 girls and a boy, including Clare, an aspiring author who idolizes Chesterton and invites both GK and Frances to tea with the family, where they form a friendship which lasts a lifetime.  Filled with happy anecdotes of a joyful childhood, we follow the Nicholls through preparations for a play, a roller skating accident, disagreements and reconciliation, and of course, a mystery involving a missing golden key.

This story was charming and delightful, and I’m not ashamed to admit that, upon finding out it was based on a real relationship, I was moved to tears at the thought of the love that the Chestertons showed to the children of the Nicholls family.  The interactions in this story give our children a good model for relationships and self sacrifice. I strongly recommend this story without reservation for readers from grade 3-5 and as a read aloud for the entire family.

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