The Old Schoolhouse® Product & Curriculum Reviews
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Probable Sons Review by Deanna JasperAmy Le Feuvre
23 State Street
Mount Morris, NY 14510
The Lamplighter Collection of classic stories is a treasure trove for lovers of Victorian children's literature and anyone seeking character-building stories to share with their families. Probable Sons by Amy Le Feuvre, originally published in 1895 and now available as part of the Lamplighter Collection, is a classic example of the kind of encouraging tale read by young people over a hundred years ago, but its timeless truths make it just as relevant to modern readers despite its historic setting.
The main character, Sir Edward Wentworth, is a wealthy man who finds his life disrupted by the arrival of an orphaned niece, Milly, who has been left to his care. At first, he sees only the bother of her intrusion upon the quiet life he enjoys on his country estate and spends time with her reluctantly each day at her nurse's request. Soon, however, he is charmed by her sweet character and begins to look forward to their evening visits.
Unlike her uncle, Milly loves the Lord and sees life through a lens of faith, a quality which drives the story and brings up the recurring theme of the Prodigal Son, her childish pronunciation of which gives the book its unusual title. We first encounter the parable as part of Milly's childish games, one of the Bible stories she enjoys acting out. Then when she accompanies Sir Edward to church one Sunday, the sermon features this text, and afterward the two of them discuss how there are many “probable sons” in the world, still hesitant to return to their Father God (or their earthly fathers, in some cases). Milly encounters several such men throughout the course of the novel and longs to see their stories completed, never realizing that her uncle himself wrestles with his own need to return to God. For herself, Milly longs to know the love of an earthly father who would embrace and love her with the same abandon as the father in Christ's story, and as her uncle finds his peace with God, both of them find their hearts full in the end.
The small, cloth-bound book with charming black-and-white illustrations dispersed throughout the nine chapters (one hundred twenty-one pages) is perfect for little hands, though the story could be enjoyed by children long before they are able to read it themselves. Lamplighter Ministries considers this book best for children ages six to eleven, though only children on the older end of that scale (or advanced readers) would be able to read it independently. Footnotes help explain the meaning of words or phrases that might be unfamiliar.
Like many Victorian characters, Milly is almost too perfect to be believable to today's readers, though that didn't take away from our family's enjoyment of the story and helped it accomplish its didactic purpose. “I believe that child lives in the presence of God from morning to night,” her uncle remarks at one point. She loves the Bible and integrates it into much of her play and conversation. Sir Edward notes her “docility,” “great fearlessness,” and “sunny laugh,” all traits that attract him so she is no longer the annoyance he feared she would be at first. Milly is a role model for children not just in her love for God but in her attitude, obedience, and compassion. Her compassion actually gets her in trouble at one point, and I must admit I tended to relate more to her nurse, who was upset with her for going off with the penniless man she met while shopping. Of course, in the story all turns out well, and it was a good chance to discuss the role of discernment and safety in ministry, especially as children.
Overall, we enjoyed Probably Sons. While Milly is sweeter and more overflowing with goodness than any child I have met in real life, the effect she has on Sir Edward in the story is echoed in the way she touches the reader. My daughter in particular seems to notice the kindness (or lack thereof) in the characters we read about, and I'm thankful for another positive example to give her of a child who loves God and radiates that love in a way that touches everyone she encounters.
—Product review by Deanna Jasper, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, April, 2017