A sailing ship with two great sidewheels went splashing out of Boston harbor on a voyage around the Horn to San Francisco. Below decks, in the creaking darkness of her cargo hold, there sat eighteen barrels of potatoes. Inside two barrels, side by side, there squatted two stowaways…
On the second day at sea, just after dawn, the lid rose silently off a potato barrel. Cautiously, a man raised his eyes above the rim of the barrel to look about. Slowly, he unfolded his long arms and legs. Then he stood, an elegant gentleman in a black broadcloth coat.
Who is this elegant gentleman unpacking himself from a potato barrel? He is Praiseworthy, dapper and faithful butler, traveling companion of 12-year-old Jack Flagg.
Why are these two stowing away? Well, it’s 1849, and as anyone can tell you, the gold rush is on! More to the point, Jack’s Aunt Arabella has lost her fortune, and lest she be forced into giving up the wonderful, old, Boston home where she has kindly raised Jack and his sisters, Jack embarks on a bold plan to strike it rich in the gold fields and replenish her bank account.
What follows is the action-packed, hilarious, tall-tale, adventure story of their lengthy sea voyage and gold-digging exploits. Along the way, Praiseworthy and Jack encounter many, very colorful characters, from the bellowing ship’s captain, to the dastardly Cut-Eye Higgins, to the hospitable Pitch-pine Billy with his black-as-paint coffee. Praiseworthy is ever resourceful, and his calm, quick thinking in tight spots is reminiscent of Jeeves, the butler created by P.G. Wodehouse.
Do Jack and Praiseworthy succeed in their mission? Or does the terrible Cut-Eye Higgins get the best of them? And what secret of the heart does Jack uncover in Praiseworthy as the two companions make their way through the thick and thin of 49-er dramatics? Here is a great read for middle-elementary kids. A number of you are looking for books for boys, and I do think boys especially enjoy this one. The characters are almost all male, and there is plenty of gusto. The whole story is an entertaining, delightful read.
I will just say: don’t judge this book by the cover. My kids and I agree — the cover art is a poor representation of the characters in this book. It bears no resemblance to the humorous, quirky illustrations by von Schmidt, which, in my opinion, better capture the flavor of the story.