Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson transferred me to a world of pirates and sea-life, but best of all the boy protagonist drove the action. Because he was in the right place at the right time and made great choices, he was able to “save the day.” I think it’s perfect for a child to read, and it reminds me that there is great classic literature for children: this is what I can’t wait to introduce to my son.

I found Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped less engaging and loveable, but still an interesting story of success. A boy is kidnapped by his uncle and sent toward the Americas. Due to his cleverness, he is shipwrecked in Scotland, but things go wrong and he becomes a political outcast as he flees south with a political refugee. While I struggled as I read it, I still enjoyed it.

Treasure Island’s charm lay in the power of the child. While Jim Hawkins was probably an older boy (age 16 or 17), I still felt he was a “boy” as I read and I think older kids would love relating to his adventures. From the beginning, Jim is the one discovering things and When a pirate dies in his family hotel, Jim finds a map with a treasure marked on it. With some help from a wealthy neighbor, they plan their trip to the island. There are a number of coincidences, of course, but one can’t help fall in love with Long John Silver, the one-legged cook who we are not surprised to find is actually a pirate. (I was so pleased to see how good he really was!)

I picked up Treasure Island as a part of my history of children’s literature project. Treasure Island is a part of the Robinson Crusoe legacy, and it is clear how it is. As Seth Lerer points out in his book Children’s Literature, when Jim Hawkins comes across Ben Gunn on the island,

“It is as if the boy had come upon Crusoe himself, marooned on his island and attired in the tatters of his former life.” (page 142).

Since I loved Robinson Crusoe, I also loved finding these parallels. While Jim Hawkins didn’t go through a religious transformation as Crusoe did, he did go through his own rites of passage to become an adult: surely, all his actions proved him worthy of being called a “man.”

While Stevenson’s other children’s novel does not hearken as clearly back to the Crusoe legacy (and wasn’t mentioned in the Children’s Literature book, I don’t think), it still captures some of the magic of the sea-faring life that must have been every young child’s dream. Of course, David’s sea experiences are horrible, and the testament to the abuse may have cured children of the dream of going to see. Did Crusoe’s ship-wreck likewise make sea-life less attractive?

For me, Kidnapped lacked some of the “child power” that I enjoyed in the first novel. While David Balfour was obviously a smart boy, he relied on others, such as Alan Breck, for much of the novel. If Alan had not appeared on his ship, David would not have been able to wreck the ship. Without Alan’s leadership, money, friendship, and guidance, David would not have made it back to England. I enjoyed the premise of the story, but since I’m so unfamiliar with English and Scottish history, I found myself confused during the political discussions. (My ignorance prompted my current Project Book.) I did not understand the “refugee” status the two had, and so I felt I missed a major element of the novel.

In the end, of the two, I absolutely loved Treasure Island. I bought a lovely copy for my 8-year-old nephew for Christmas, and I can’t wait to get a lovely copy for my own son too. Maybe 8 years old is a bit young, but I’m all for promoting the classics no matter what age. (Hence the fact that I read my one-year-old Robinson Crusoe last year…)

Have you read either of these books as a child? How old were you?

What did you like most about them?

P.S. Don’t you love the cover for Treasure Island above? It reminds me of my time visiting the Twelve Apostles in Australia!

Reviewed on January 5, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read either of these. I don’t know why; I love adventurey go-to-sea-type books. When I was a kid I read The Swiss Family Robinson but never any Robert Louis Stevenson. Need to remedy that!

  • I read Kidnapped a few years back and didn’t enjoy it much, despite having enjoyed some of Stevenson’s adult works a lot. I figured Treasure Island would be a lot like Kidnapped so I never bothered to read it. Maybe I should.

  • I actually read Treasure Island for school when I was 12 or 13! I didn’t really love it, though… I think I found it boring, which seems strange, I realize, but it’s true! I seem to recall that I felt the language was archaic and that really hindered my enjoyment… but maybe that’s something I’ve just concocted over the years? I did have a collection of RLS’s poetry that I read when I was younger and I remember enjoying that a good deal, so you might want to look into that if you feel like exposing your son to some poetry when he’s young. My grandmother and I would read through the poems together when I was quite little!

  • I’ve never read any Stevenson. I think I have a version of Treasure Island, but I’m not sure if it’s complete. I think I started reading it and didn’t finish. I’m not really big

  • Loved your post! Thanks for the reminder that I must read Treasure Island and Kidnapped, both, soon! I’m familiar with the stories, due to abridged versions, comic book versions, etc, as a child, but have never really read the complete versions. I adored Robinson Crusoe so am sure I’ll love them. You’re so cute, reading Robinson Crusoe to your baby. 🙂

  • Treasure Island was one of my comfort reads in middle school. I don’t know when I first discovered it but it was one I checked out from the library again and again. I’m hoping to read it with Kiddo one day.

  • Like you, I didn’t read either of these as a kid, but I did discover Treasure Island as an adult and was surprised how thoroughly I enjoyed it! I have nothing against sea-going tales but I have no particular predilection for them either, which I think is why I was so slow to pick up Stevenson. But the characters and the plot were both amply developed to keep my interest. I agree; it’s a total classic!

  • I read Treasure Island in elementary school, although I think I may have read a children’s classic version that had updated language. I was only in third or fourth grade, so I don’t think it was the real thing. I loved the story though. It was fun and it made me want to be a pirate. We went went to Disney World soon afterward, and I LOVED the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. This makes me want to reread it though, since I don’t think I read the real version. And I want to read other Defoe works as well.

  • Jenny I’m doing Swiss Family Robinson right now!!

    Amanda, I thought they were very different in feel. I think Treasure Island is more child-like, even if there are a few big bad pirates killed. Kidnapped just felt dark from the beginning to me. And very political.

    Steph, Oh I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it because of the archaic language, since I just gave it to my nephew! Ah well, he’ll just think of me as the not cool aunt. I enjoy Stevenson’s poetry very much too!

    Aarti, I’m not that big on adventure stories either, but I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit.

    claire, well, i figured he was playing and I wanted to read, so why not read to him? lol. That was the last huge book, because it took about three months. Waaaay too long. But he still finds it on the shelf and brings it to me, babbling in excitement. He recognizes it after so long, a little every day! Even though he won’t remember the story, he knows I read it to him!

    Heather J., I think I would have loved this in middle school. My middle school read was Peter Pan. I read it about 15 times in sixth grade.

    Emily, I’m glad you discovered it too! I’m not sure I’m drawn to sea-faring tales either, but my project had a chapter dedicated to them, so there you go. I’m getting my fill 🙂

    Lindsey, I didn’t find the language out-of-date, but I do read a lot of classics. Stevenson did write it with kids in mind. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is much harder to read, much longer, and technically an adult novel (although in Victorian times, kids read it all the time!).

    Eva, yeay! It’s pretty short. You probably would read it in an hour or two! Enjoy!

  • I read it in three sittings (as I was falling asleep at night) and it probably was 2 1/2 hours that way. But I know you read fast. I guess my copy is 150 pages. So maybe longer than an hour.

  • I haven’t read Kidnapped yet but I read Treasure Island for the first time last year or the year before I believe and I really, really loved it. Long John Silver is such a good character.

  • I wish people would not tell to much about a book. I was in the middle of reading this great book. after reading what everyone said i have put the book down and moved on to a new on. things you say on this site makes mothers not want to read when you know whats going to happen. when your kid says whats going to happen next and you know and dont tell then its a LIE thats not a happy feeling at all . and reading a book is why i do it…..

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