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Friday, August 26, 2011

The Quite Contrary Man, written by Patricia Rusch Hyatt and illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Abrams, 2011. $19.95 ages 7 and up

"Not just any wispy, wimpy beard, Joseph Palmer's mighty beard broke all boundaries. It flowed from chin to belly and from elbow to elbow. If Joseph Palmer faced the wind, his whopping whiskers swept over his shoulders and flapped down to his hip pockets. His neighbors were shocked."

Joseph Palmer was born a very stubborn child and he grew to be a 'pig-headed' man as his mother is bent on telling readers of this fine picture book biography. Neighbors knew him to be a most contrary boy. His mother constantly lamented her son's future, sure that nothing good would come of that contrariness.

People of the time were appalled by his daring to grow a beard. Remember, people liked proper; and a beard most certainly was NOT! Joseph was not the man to bow to pressure from his friends and neighbors. Many tried to sway him from his resolve. His neighbors were shocked and angry. The minister admonished him in church. People who did not know him stared and shouted at him.

When four neighbors were thwarted in their attempt to shave his beard, they reported that Joseph had attacked them. He was fined ten dollars which he was not willing to pay; as a result, he was thrown in jail for a year. While there, he refused to shave, too. When his family made their daily visits with food and conversation, he sent letters to be delivered to the paper. He told of the appalling conditions in the jail...and was punished further.

It did not stop him. The next letter resulted in better conditions. Finally, he was released from prison. The release came on condition that he pay for the biscuits and water he had consumed while can imagine his reaction.  This spunky, cantankerous man had a point and was willing to pay the price for his convictions, not the price assigned for a sentence that he deemed unfair. He is a lesson to each of us.

Filled with motion and detail, Kathryn Brown's wood-framed text and old-fashioned artwork evoke an early nineteenth century culture where doing what was expected was the only way to live life...contrary to Joseph Palmer's view.

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