Doctor’s Boy by Karin Anckarsvard


This Swedish import, published in the 1960’s, was a delight. The plot is a bit slow-moving for the internet generation, but if you can slow down long enough to enjoy the scenery of early twentieth century Sweden, the moral dilemmas of a boy who is learning about poverty and class distinctions for the first time, and a thoughtful, maturing kind of story, then Doctor’s Boy will be a good change of pace.

There is action: attempted robbery, health crises, of both human and dog variety, troubles at school, and the excitement of accompanying Father (the doctor) on his house calls every evening. However, the characterization of the doctor’s son, Jon, and his new friend, Rickard, a poor boy from the slums of this “little Swedish town of Soltuna”, is the centerpiece of this story. Jon learns to appreciate Rickard’s strengths and challenges, and Rickard learns to respect the doctor’s boy, who has grown up a lot while helping his father in his work.

In fact, a twenty-first boy or girl who reads Doctor’s Boy might be a bit jealous of the freedom and the interesting experiences that Jon and Rickard have. Ten year old Jon is allowed to walk to and from school by himself. He doesn’t like to tell his parents much about what happens at school, so he doesn’t. He goes with his father in the gig to his evening house calls and manages the horse while his father goes into homes with possible contagion or goes in with him to help when the cases are not dangerous. Later in the story, Jon and Rickard go out to an island where a man is deathly ill, along with father, but they get to stay and take care of the man while the father returns to get help.

Even though Jon attends a private school, along with Rickard who is there on scholarship, the story has a homeschooling feel to it as Jon is mentored by his father and initiated into the “family business” of doctoring. It would be a great read aloud for discussing Swedish life and culture or fathers and sons working together or the way to relate to people in poverty. If you can find a copy, you should definitely take a look. I first saw it recommended in Elizabeth Wilson’s Books Children Love, where she writes that “the story is full of lively events and portrays a warm, loving family with a consistent concern for the needs of others.”

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