JED The Poorhouse Boy by Horatio Alger, Jr. copyright 1899, by Henry T. Coates & Company

Who knew!? <My face is red!> I have hear the expression "Horatio Alger Success Story" since I was a little child. I thought that was the name of the character. So...obviously this is the first one I have ever read. (He wrote ... jillions ... of those stories.) Yes, it is kind of a "formula" story; but it's a good formula. 

Jed is an almost 16 year old boy who was taken to the poorhouse as a very young toddler (and untruthfully told he had fallen off a gypsy wagon and was left behind). When the stingy and corrupt Overseer of the Poor (as a cost- cutting measure) replaces the kindly old couple who have been the Keepers of the Poorhouse with a mean new couple, they overwork and mistreat him. 

By an act of heroism (involving run-away horses) he endears himself to a kindly leading citizen of the town who helps him run away. Having been institutionalized all his life, Jed is naive in the ways of the world. After many adventures (good and bad), and despite being harassed by the snobby young son of the Overseer of the Poor (who is determined that nobody so "low class" should succeed in society), Jed's integrity and good nature are rewarded with success. A mysterious stranger who seems threatening turns out to be instrumental in the happy ending.  

Yes, it is written in a sentimental romanticized style.... which I surprisingly found quite refreshing for a change! But despite this, the author has provided a fairly accurate backdrop of the socio-political realities of the poorhouse system of the 19th century. Except for Jed's incredible good luck ... the story could be true.

This book seems to be currently out of print. It can, however, be found in most large libraries and is available through Inter-Library-Loan and found in used book stores and often up for auction on eBay. It has been reprinted in many (many!) editions which all seem to have different cover art. [The one above is funny ... because ... how likely is it that a boy living in a poorhouse would be decked-out in jodhpurs and riding boots?!]  The book could be enjoyed by adults as well as children from about age 12 years. And reading the book together could allow parents to initiate a discussion of such issues as the treatment of poor people and children raised in foster home care. (Always a nice addition to their moral training and the development of their social conscience.) Besides -- It's a good readPHL

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