Review: Ned, Barnardo Boy
Posted by Melanie in Book Review, History, teaching boys

There are only a select subset of books that I reread. Most are barely worth the time to finish them, but there are a few that bear rereading again and again. Dorothy Sayers is like that. Although she writes mysteries, her prose is so enjoyable that you don’t even care that you know “who dunnit.” I was rereading one of hers the other day and Harriet mentioned to Lord Peter that someone was a Barnardo’s boy. Thanks to Barbara Coyle, this time I knew what she meant!

Anyone in the England of 70 or 100 or 140 years ago would know exactly what was meant by a Barnardo’s boy – a orphan taken in by one of the many homes  established by Dr. Thomas Barnardo, an evangelical Christian with an early ambition for the foreign mission field, who found his God-given mission ministering to the “least of these my brethren.” Barbara Coyle, a missionary wife herself, brings that history to life in Ned, Barnardo Boy.


This is quite a remarkable book. I have very high standards for writing in fiction (see my earlier remarks about Dorothy Sayers!) and in fact, there are some popular authors that I just can’t read – the cringe factor is too high. I can get past poor writing in nonfiction in order to get the information, but in fiction, where the goal is the suspension of disbelief, every time I have to cringe about the writing “Bam!” my imagination has crashed and I’m back to reality – and the book loses any appeal it had. When Barbara contacted me about reviewing her book, I went out to their site and read the first chapter. I was hooked. Barbara Coyle can write!

What I didn’t realize is that the book would get better and better. Decent, accurate historical fiction is worthwhile by itself because we understand history so much better when we can imagine living it – it cements it in our heads much more firmly – but the very best historical fiction is not just historically accurate, but it brings to life the moral struggles of the time and shows God’s providence in the lives of men. That’s why we love G.A. Henty novels and why we believe that Ned, Barnardo Boy is a book you need to get your family.

The story follows the life of Ned, a street urchin and orphan in London, and very clearly shows the heartbreak and trials of his life without dwelling on the horrific. When he is brought to Barnardo’s, his life isn’t automatically peaches and cream and the novel deals with the challenges of the new situations, new discipline, and the equally challenging boys around him. Ned learns to work hard, to get along with others, and to like where he is, when suddenly he’s chosen to emigrate to Canada. What he faces there, is not just an important piece of history, it is replete with lessons for our children.

One of the huge temptations of young men is to react to criticism or perceived rejection with anger and sullenness. This is one of the great tools of the enemy in the lives of our teens. As their hormones jump around and they go from belligerent with a chip on their shoulder to crying, “Nobody understands! Nobody cares about me!”, the enemy constantly tempts them to anger and sullenness toward the people best able to help them navigate through this time of life – their parents. Ned, Barnardo Boy gives us a fantastic example of the righteous way to deal with those situations and those feelings. Ned’s not a too-perfect-to-be-real character, but he does make the righteous choice and the book ends in joy. And, it’s full of adventure and interest for boys, too! Highly recommended.

The Coyle family are missionaries in Ireland and are using the proceeds from Ned, Barnardo Boy to fund their adoption from Ethiopia. Please purchase the book from CreateSpace where the Coyles receive the highest percentage.

And if that weren’t enough, there is an awesome-looking 143 page month-long unit study that you can buy to go with it! I want this for my children! Check it out at CurrClick — be sure to look at the preview – and grab it quick, it’s on sale for $15 $10! I particularly like the extra resources included; this isn’t just a questions about the book unit study!

Ned, Barnardo Boy, CreateSpace, December 2009, 166 pages, $12.99. Footnoted, with definitions of difficult words.

A free copy of Ned, Barnardo Boy and the Study Guide were provided to us in return for our honest review.

A Contest!

The Coyle family has graciously given us TWO copies WITH unit study guides to give away! If you’d like to win one, just post a comment on this review. For extra entries, post a link to this review on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, your email group, or bulletin board and tell you did it in a comment. If you’re on our newsletter list, or Facebook page, and comment and let us know, that will count as an extra entry, too! Contest ends Wednesday, August 11th, at noon 4pm EDT. Be sure to check back then, or sign in with Disqus so that we can find you. If we don’t hear from you in a few days, we’ll select another winner.

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