October 12, 2023

#08-348: Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates

Hans and Gretel skating (Wikimedia)

Note: Mary Mapes Dodge's book is a wonder in many ways: an accurate portrayal of a country she had never seen, and a made-up "legend" that even people of that country believe!

Get Ready: What would you be willing to give up to see another person, perhaps a sister or brother, be successful?

In 1865, Mary Mapes Dodge, who had never been to Holland, wrote a children's book that familiarized many Americans with that colorful country. Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, told the simple story of a 15-year-old boy who desperately wanted to win an ice-skating race. But because of Dodge's deep research, the book was filled with details about life in the country more properly known as the Netherlands.

The story is set somewhat earlier in the 19th century, near the end of what has since been called "The Little Ice Age." At that time, some areas of Europe (and North America) experienced periods of extreme cold. Many rivers, and even an entire sea, froze solid enough that people could walk on them. The race Hans wished to win was on a frozen canal near his home.

Hans's father was ill and unable to work, so Hans and his mother and sister Gretel had to work hard to support the family. The children had only handmade wooden skates, which left them little chance of winning the race.

But in addition to supporting his family, Hans was able to save enough to buy Gretel a pair of steel skates for the race. He then earned enough to buy a pair for himself, but instead offered to give the money to a famous surgeon, Dr. Boekman, to operate on his father.

Although the doctor had been gruff since his wife died and his son disappeared, he was so touched by Hans's selflessness that he did the surgery for free, and Hans was able to buy the skates.

The big day arrived. Gretel won the girls' division and took home the silver skates. However, Hans--selfless to the end--dropped out to help a friend win.

In the end, Mr. Brinker's surgery was a success and his health improved; the doctor's son was found, with Mr. Brinker's help; Mr. Brinker's savings, long thought to be lost, were found; and the doctor became kinder and gentler. He even helped Hans go to medical school, and Hans became a successful doctor.

You may recall, by the way, that the story of another selfless boy, “The Dutch Boy and the Dike,” was first found in this book (see Lesson #03-016). In fact, it never happened: Mrs. Dodge made it up!


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

  1. canal
  2. desperately
  3. dike
  4. Dutch
  5. familiarized
  6. gruff
  7. handmade
  8. properly
  9. selfless
  10. surgeon
  1. not produced by a machine
  2. to an extreme degree
  3. thinking only of others
  4. correctly; formally
  5. became acquainted with
  6. the adjective for things from Holland (the Netherlands)
  7. bad-tempered
  8. an artificial river, made by humans
  9. an earthen wall meant to hold back the sea
  10. a doctor who operates on people

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 12, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. b; 3. i; 4. f; 5. e; 6. g; 7. a; 8. d; 9. c; 10. j