The Boy Travelers
The Boy Travelers is a 20-book series written by New Hampshire native Thomas Wallace Knox during the last two decades of the 19th century. The series follows two young boys, Frank and Fred, and Dr. Bronson on their travels through the world. The characters in the series are entirely fictitious, but the events that unfold are all based on real incidents that have occurred. (Knox 9) After traveling via steamboat from San Francisco across the Pacific Ocean, the trio find themselves at Yokohama Harbor, Japan, the first destination in the series. After Japan, they would find themselves traveling through China, Indochina, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, Egypt, Africa, South America, Russia, Australasia, and finally end their journey traveling through Great Britain and Europe. Through their travels and experiences, children who read these books are given views of what each country and area is like as a whole.
Dr. Bronson’s role in the books is that of a mentor to both Frank and Fred. It seems as though he has been through most of the places that they are visiting and is retracing some of his steps with the two young boys. Often, we would find Dr. Bronson imparting his knowledge of the world’s historical, geographical, and scientific phenomena to Frank and Fred. On the steamboat ride, Frank and Fred learn about the Atlantic Gulfstream, the Japan current, Greenwich Mean Time, and navigation. Fred exclaims “when we left San Francisco, we steered for this mountain, five thousand miles away, and here it is, right before us. Navigation is a wonderful science, and no mistake.” (Knox 76) Readers of the series are exposed to the wonders of science and geography as well through these little lessons that Frank and Fred are taught as well.
Apart from these lessons, the books are filled with illustrations of the places and people that are seen during the travels. These illustrations are mostly pencil sketches yet are filled with tons of details for readers to truly feel as though they are wherever the trio might be in the world. Also featured in the books are letters written by the two boys to their family members detailing their travels and what they see, learn, love, and feel about their travels.
Unfortunately, through these letters and the writing in general, we notice drastic differences in tone when Knox writes about travels through Asia as compared to a European nation. When contrasting the writing in the first book (Japan and China) with that of the travels in Great Britain and Ireland, these differences are very evident. Knox seems to constantly start out with the negative images that he sees in a country in Asia – “There are many senseless rules of society in the East” and “We found the streets narrow and dirty… and the shopkeepers are not so polite” (Knox 322). But when he is describing a European city like Dublin, Knox would begin with the positives instead of the negatives – “There is so much in Dublin that is interesting that I hardly know where to begin and am afraid that when once started I shall not know where to stop.” (Knox 47)
All in all, this series was surely a comprehensive, and educational adventure series that educated its readers in both science and geography.