Hans Brinker it just didn't work. Mary Mapes Dodge not only wanted to tell the story of the poor, but hardworking protagonist, but she also wanted to weave in many heroes and legends of Dutch history. That would have been okay if this additional information had been skillfully woven into the narrative, but most of it was tacked on, interrupting the story's flow.
So why has this novel, with its burden of extraneous facts, survived for over 150 years? Because it's a wonderful story of family love, honest labor, and hard-won victories. It's much more than a novel about a Dutch boy's desire to win the coveted silver skates.
When the story begins Hans and his sister Gretel are skating on wooden blocks and are the subject of ridicule by some of the more well-to-do young people. Their father has been sick for ten years and they are living in extreme poverty. But that doesn't keep them from dreaming about the big race and the possibility of entering it. As the story moves along many mysteries are uncovered. What happened to make their father lose his memory? Where is the family savings hidden? Will Raff Brinker get well again? Can Hans and Gretel participate in the ice skating competition? But the heart of the story is not found in the answers to these questions. The heart of the story is found in the relationships that are built and strengthened between friends and family members, many of whom give sacrificially so that others might benefit. The family's faith is an integral and natural part of the novel.
I ended up enjoying it very much in spite of the distracting digressions. An abridged version would be lovely as long as it did not leave out all the Christian bits. (Many abridged versions of Heidi and Robinson Crusoe leave that out, which robs the stories of their richness.)
I listened to a free version of this book at Librivox. The narrator is better than most, but was just okay for this particular book.