A Book for All Ages: "William Henry Is a Fine Name"
- Tuesday, March 27, 2007
"William Henry Is a Fine Name" (Moody Publishers) is one of those rare books that transcends the age of the reader. Though the author, Cathy Gohlke, wrote it as youth fiction, her publisher viewed it as a coming-of-age story strong enough to be read and enjoyed by both adults and youth and labeled the novel as historical fiction.
The book chronicles the life of a 13-year-old boy, Robert, torn between two worlds in 1859. Robert is raised in the south on a plantation run by abolitionists who've freed their former slaves and now share the earnings of the plantation with them. Robert’s best friend, William Henry, is a free black boy. However, Robert's mother is the daughter of a rich slave owner who's hoping to groom Robert to take over his plantation. The two worlds collide and Robert must decide whether to become a part of the Underground Railroad, like his father, or to step into the wealth and ease his grandfather offers.
The book is beautifully descriptive with a well-crafted story line. A wonderful choice for our family read aloud time, both my children and I were engrossed in the drama of this novel. But the author did more than craft a great story with well-chosen words, she offered her readers big ideas to process and I feel both my children and I grew as we experienced this book together.
Cathy, what prompted you to write "William Henry Is a Fine Name"?
From the moment in childhood that I learned of the Underground Railroad I have been fascinated and inspired by those daring races to freedom and by the courageous runners, conductors, and stationmasters who risked their lives to help one another. I’ve wondered if I could so courageously act upon such conviction. Writing this book helped me explore that.
Did a particular passion drive you as you wrote?
My passion is to bless young people, to let them know they are not powerless, not alone, that they, too, can effect change in their own spheres by the grace of God, and that there are real life answers in the Bible for all of us. Our questions may change through the years, but God's answers and the principles that lead to life are for all generations.
What questions have you had that were answered by these principles?
There are so many over my lifetime. Questions like: What does God want of me? How do I honor Him in my life? How can I live a Christian life in school, at home, at work, at church, and in the world when people around me look down on or ridicule that? How do I treat someone who looks or believes differently than I? If I don’t like my situation or if it is hurtful what can I do to change it? What if changing my situation hurts someone else? Is there a way to heal both? Does God call us to live our Christian life in solitude or community? How far does that community extend? What if helping one person hurts another?
Your book is full of wonderful themes, themes of courage, friendship, loyalty, and justice. What one theme do you think is most important in this work and how do you hope it might impact a reader?
Love – love for God and love for neighbor. That love motivates us to live courageously, intentionally, to be willing to sacrifice to help others. I hope this book will stimulate readers to step up and receive the abundant relationship God offers, then look people they meet each day in the eye, and care for, value, and protect them as much as they care for, value, and protect themselves.
Is there something in your own life that fuels a passion for that theme? Would you be willing to share a personal experience along these lines?
Many life events fuel my passion for this theme. Here is one. I grew up in the south during years of the Civil Rights movement. Laws changed more quickly than attitudes.
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