The Letter Q (A-to-Z Challenge)

The Queen’s Gold, by Norma Youngberg

I think I’ve mentioned before that as a child my reading list was restricted to animal stories and the books of Seventh-day Adventist authors.  I always went home from camp meeting with armloads of books from the sale bin and I have to say that most of those were pretty horrible – preachy collections of stories that clumsily hammered heavy moral lessons out of coincidental events, adventure books that seemed promising but then introduced plot lines that fizzled and disappeared, pointless tales told in the syrupy, didactic tone of an out of touch older person talking down to a kindergarten classroom, memoirs of obscure church workers I had never heard of.*

On the shelves, though, for full price and NEVER on sale were the classic missionary stories of beloved SDA writers such Josephine Cunnington Edwards, Arthur S. Maxwell, Eric B. Hare, Miriam Wood, June Strong, and Norma Youngberg.

My copy of Norma Youngberg’s The Queen’s Gold was an old well-read gold-coloured cloth bound book with an ink drawing of a boy paddling a canoe on the cover.  Inside was the riveting story of an English boy, Steven, who survives a pirate attack in the waters of Borneo, then is taken in by a local tribe of Dyak headhunters and adopted by Chief-elect Rasak and his wife Siti.*** Eventually, of course, the pirates come back to get him and here it becomes very exciting.  I could not get enough of this book, and upon re-reading it this morning I can see why.  No preachiness, no sanctimony, actually no Christian or religious theme of any kind.  Just a rollicking good adventure story and most excellently written.  It is still in print today, available on Amazon, and I recommend it. You could hand it to any pre-teen who loves to read and they would thank you.

There are two more SDA classics that I read to bits: Josephine Cunnington Edwards’ Swift Arrow and Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Secret of the Cave.  Both of these writers have many books that hold a special place in the hearts of people who grew up in the SDA church, but these volumes are the two that I loved the best.  My copy of Swift Arrow is now nothing more than chunks of pages carefully stored between detached paper covers, creased and folded, the cover art flaking away in white patches, bits of dried yellow glue falling out whenever I pick it up. Being cloth bound The Secret of the Cave has fared better, the blue and white drawings of the two handsome brothers in the pompadours and striped shirts of the era still fresh on the inside cover. Both of these books, like The Queen’s Gold, are exciting adventure stories, rich in local and historical colour, told simply and well and with no moralizing attached.  If you have a young reader on your gifting list you couldn’t go wrong with these.

See you tomorrow for Letter R,


*and now I suspect not many other people had heard of them either.  Of course at the time I thought that anyone meriting a book must be a Very Important Person indeed so these books, dull and boring and cringingly awfully written, were puzzling to me. They mostly involved fond reminiscences of mild scrapes gotten into at boarding academy, an early marriage, the raising of three or four children while the husband went to college and the wife did laundry including cloth diapers by hand in a crummy house with no food in the kitchen cupboards, a boring recitation of the various church posts they held over the next forty years and then a kind of coda chapter which described them spending their twilight years managing a mobile home park in the desert and being visited by their grandchildren.  Hardly thrilling stuff.  Of course, these books were in the sale bin, and at camp meeting – just as everywhere else in this life – you get what you pay for.

**Even though it was written in the 1950s it could be read aloud today in any company without giving offense.  Well, the pirate king is once referred to as a ‘hulking savage,’ but as he and his men had been rampaging up and down the river murdering people by the hundreds and in this scene he is actually towering over Steven with the express intent of tearing him to pieces the argument could be made that this was justified. Possibly this term has been expunged from the current edition, though; I haven’t checked.

***When the voice thing on the iPhone first came out I ran excitedly for my copy of The Queen’s Gold  because I was sure I remembered that Rasak’s wife’s name was Siri.  I was so disappointed to find that I was wrong, but now I’m glad, because Siti was quite nice and in my opinion Siri is a real bitch.


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