Salem Ridge Press, established in 2005 and founded by homeschool graduate Daniel Mills, is a publishing company “dedicated to bringing back quality children’s books of the 1800’s and early 1900’s for a new generation of readers.” While some of the books are available online as eBooks from Project Gutenburg, the Salem Ridge editions have been revised to meet strict standards. Salem Ridge Press republishes “living books” for the whole family and is meticulous about making sure their publications are wholesome. When necessary, they revise the text to meet their strict standards. Here is a statement from Daniel Mills regarding his commitment to wholesome texts:
I feel very responsible for the content of books that we republish and if I am going to bring a book back into print, I want to be able to stand behind it with no reservations. Very early on we realized that we were going to have to decide carefully what was appropriate in our books and what was not. I sometimes joke that our number one rule is, “No Kissing!” While many books from the 1800′s and early 1900′s are no problem at all this way, in several cases we have slightly edited passages which included a brief kiss or embrace. We want to be an encouragement to young people to maintain the highest standards of purity in their relationships. We have also edited out some derogatory comments that we felt were unnecessary or offensive. On several occasions the illustrations have presented a challenge and so we edited them to keep things modest and appropriate. Most of the changes that we make are very minor but I think they go a long way towards upholding our standard which is found in the Bible: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).“
Salem Ridge Press provided three novels to me for this review. The Sign Above the Door by William Canfield (originally published in 1812 by the Jewish Publication Society of America) and The Captives Or, Escape from the Druid Council by Emma Leslie (originally published in 1873 by Sunday School Union) were provided in PDF format (although they are not available in that format on the web site). Dearer Than Life, A Story of the Times of Wycliffe by Emma Leslie (originally published in 1884 by The ReligiousTract Society) was mailed to me as a softcover book. At Salem Ridge Press, softcovers are $14.95 or less; hardcovers are $24.95 or less. For a complete listing of books available, click here. You can choose to see the titles listed in alphabetical order, by time period & location, by author, and by age range. I found the time period listing especially helpful as it enables me to see which books would complement our current history studies. On the other hand, the listing by age enables me to see which books would be most suitable for our family, since we would benefit most from books suitable to ages 12 and under.
Since I found it more practical to read a softcover than a PDF, I chose to use Dearer Than Life for this review. According to the publisher, “Dearer Than Life falls at the intersection of the movements to not only limit Church power but also to limit political power. The Magna Charta, an agreement limiting the power of the English monarch, had been signed over one hundred years earliers but the poor in England were still little better than slaves, captive to the will of their overlords.“
Dearer Than Life (recommended for ages 12 to Adult) is a work of historical fiction set in 1366. It tells the story of Hugh Middleton, a member of Parliament and man of both Saxon and Norman ancestry. Sir Hugh finds himself in the midst of controversy with the monks at the local monastery, who have laid claim to one of his fields. Sir Hugh drives the monks from his property, which is viewed as a “mortal sin” by his own brother who is one of the monks. Further adding to the controversy, “he sends his younger son, Stephen, to study under Dr. John Wycliffe, who has begun to publicly question the authority of the Church to grant pardon for sin” and “sends his elder son, Harry, to serve as an attendant to the powerful Duke of Lancaster, who is well-known for his desire to limit the power of the Church and increase the power of the nobility.” Follow the story of Sir Hugh, his sons Stephen and Harry, and his daughters, Maude and Madge, as they “all find that they have parts to play for the kingdom of God” in a time of “great political and religious upheaval.“
I think Dearer Than Life is an interesting and educational book. But, frankly, it was not a great fit for my family at this time. It was too advanced to be used as a read aloud to my younger children (ages 6 and 11). I knew my older child (16) would not deem it a worthy read, since she’d rather read “fun” fiction (such as fantasy and mystery) or spend her spare time learning how to write web code such as HTML and CSS. I did read the first chapter out loud to her and was surprised to find that she was attentive. But, she never did pick it up on her own, or ask me to read more of it to her. I was hopeful; but, alas, it did not happen.
Meanwhile, after reading the first chapter aloud, I wanted to read more! I started reading it myself and I enjoyed it. I can see its value as a tool for general history studies; or, better yet, Church history. But, perhaps surprisingly, I also see great value in it as a tool for English language studies. It is full of vocabulary words that are little-used these days, but nonetheless beneficial for the college-bound student. Since the unfamiliar words are defined right in the margins of the text, a student could easily read this book and increase his vocabulary by leaps and bounds.
While Dearer Than Life was not a good fit for my family, I can still recommend it for families who are particularly interested in historical fiction, especially if they are looking for “meat” rather than “fluff”. I also highly recommend Salem Ridge Press in general to any family that is seeking wholesome books that uphold purity and modesty. I would not hesitate to purchase a different book from Salem Ridge Press, especially one that matches our current studies and is suitable for the younger learner. For instance, I will seriously consider The American Twins of the Revolution by Lucy Fitch Perkins when we begin our study of American history. It is based on a true story from the Revolutionary War in 1777 and is recommended for ages 8 and up.