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Reviewed by A. L. Peevey for Readers' Favorite
A.M. Watson’s Infants of the Brush: A Chimney Sweep's Story recounts the story of a handful of boys all but enslaved by a master chimney sweep. With his widowed mother desperate for money, Egan Whitcombe, aged six, is apprenticed to Daniel Armory for three crowns, and so begins an ordeal that Egan must embrace to the best of his ability or perish. As he longs to see his family again, Egan’s only solace is the tutelage of Thomas Pitt, the kind-hearted older apprentice who takes Egan under his wing, watching out for him the best that he can as he teaches Egan how to become a “broomer” or “climbing boy” in the perilous trade of chimney sweeping. Pitt also teaches him how to hide a little money here and there, to save enough to buy their freedom some day.
Enriched by and firmly rooted in historical fact, A.M. Watson’s Infants of the Brush does not mince words. Eighteenth century London, England is not a kind place for poor and homeless children. Watson delivers a heart-wrenching story of extremes, where young boys are exploited as they provide a needed service to the wealthy, who do not consider the danger inherent in chimney sweeping or the basic well-being of the boys. Yet, these same boys take joy in the simplest of pleasures such as getting a few extra mouthfuls of food or spending a few nights in a graveyard, a haven of peace compared to the cellar where they are usually put every night. Despite the horrible plight of Egan and his companions, this poignant story is well written, readable, and hopeful, offering us a view into another time, authentic in its use of dialect, and well worth the time of readers. A great book. Well done in every way!