Author: Lazlo Hamori
Title: Dangerous Journey
Recommended Age: 10-13, but good for all ages, really!
Today is the Solemnity (alert! extra ice cream!) of the birth of John the Baptist.
As our dear Fr. Marc reminded us today at Mass, the Church just doesn’t let us forget about Christmas, all through the year. He pointed out that at the height of Lent, we have the Feast of the Annunciation; at the end of May, when we’ve Holy-Spirited ourselves up into the high heavens, she brings us back to the humble Visitation; and now, on June 24, “as far from Christmas Day, December 25, as you can get,” she gives us the only other feast of a nativity that she has us celebrate, that of the Prophet of the Old and the New, John the Baptist.
So it’s a day for at least one gift, right? I give you one of the very best read-aloud books you will ever encounter. This book will satisfy just about everyone’s hunger for adventure, and it has the virtue of also having an unusual setting: Communist occupation in Hungary after World War II.
Every chapter is a cliffhanger. The prose is brisk. The story is crazy wonderful, because it’s about the absolutely unthinkable — mere children left to their own devices all alone in a hostile environment.
(And so, lots of potential here to discuss all those things you’ve been meaning to bring up, like, do you know how to tell which direction you are going in? And could you discern a helpful stranger from a dangerous one, or know when to run? Could you keep warm? I don’t know if you can work oxbow lakes into the conversation, but, for your own peace of mind, try!)
The main character is a boy who finds himself on the road and rail to find his father (so, technically, he’s not an orphan — the best character from a child’s point of view — but might as well be for the duration of the story — extra points to actually have a father!). But there’s another boy and a girl too; and there is bread and sausage, which is all I really ask of an adventure.
My fifth-grade teacher read this book aloud to our class after lunch. When she finished (and there are twenty-one chapters, so it must have taken at least a couple of weeks), twenty-five rapt children begged her to start it again. We hadn’t moved an inch the entire time she read. And she did; but as I recall, she extracted some amazing feat from us first!
It’s one of those problematic gifts, though, because it’s out of print and you might have to wait a long time to enjoy it. Try looking for it on Amazon, of course, and Abebooks. A few copies are available on Ebay, I think. Keep your eye out for it at library sales. Snatch up every copy you find, because I promise you, you will love this book. (I found it again in adulthood courtesy of my friend Theresa, who generously sent me a copy based on “there is a boy, and a train, and it’s in Hungary.” Which shows you my retention rate of a book read aloud to me twice.)
If you are having trouble finding it, you can console yourselves in the meantime with The Winged Watchman, set in Holland and Number the Stars, set in Denmark. There are, of course, many more books in this genre, and we will have more posts along these lines. But for a read-aloud, Dangerous Journey is at the tippity-top of my list.