Positive Parenting: Book Review
The Adventures of Charlie Pierce: Harvey E. Oyer III
The Last Egret
by Amanda Farinos
Positive Parenting: Book Review In 1872, the Pierce family became one of the first non-Native American families to settle in the area now known as Palm Beach. From the time he was 8 years old until his death in 1939, their son Charlie kept a journal of his daily activities – a valuable source of historical information that was compiled into a 700-page manuscript and has been widely used by academic writers to document early hurricanes and other important events in Florida history. They write from an academic standpoint, but in the pages of Charlie’s journals there are also childhood stories, experiences and lessons of interest to children, which is what Palm Beach attorney Harvey Oyer wanted to focus on when he decided to use his family’s history to create a series of children’s books. The second book in the series, “The Adventures of Charlie Pierce: The Last Egret” is available now. A fifth-generation descendant of the Pierce family, Harvey E. Oyer III was raised with a remarkable passion for Florida history, and has been lecturing on the subject for the past decade. Told time and time again by his fans that he should write a book, Oyer thought children’s books would be a more effective way of teaching than a book for adults. He saw an opportunity to influence readers for an entire lifetime, for them to carry from childhood an understanding of Florida’s fragile environment, the water supply, the wildlife and people who live here, and grow up to be our community leaders with a much better understanding of Florida history. “I think everyone that lives in Florida should have some fundamental understanding of its history,” said the author. His stance is that it’s more fun to use adventure stories as a teaching method, rather than memorization of dates or names. Oyer explained, “You capture the imagination of a child through the adventure, but along the way they are learning all the names of the places, the flora, the fauna, bits of Native American language...and by the time they are finished they may end up knowing more than the average adult does about these topics.” In fact, there are as many adults as there are children picking up the book for a quick study. Oyer said several parents have told him they brought “The Last Egret” home for their kids, but ended up reading it themselves and learning more about Florida history in those few hours than in ten or twenty years of living here.
The Palm Beach County public schools saw the educational value in the Charlie Pierce books, too, and have selected “The Last Egret” for a “read together” literacy program. Starting this school year, Wachovia will purchase over 13,000 copies of the book for the school district, so that every 4th grade student can read the book during the same week. Fourth grade generally marks the year that Palm Beach students learn about Florida history, and the school district found that Oyer’s book – which touches on subjects such as Native American and pioneer relationships, the daily lives and concerns of early settlers, and their interactions with native wildlife – accomplishes Sunshine State teaching requirements faster than other materials would. There are some heavy themes present throughout the story, including the repercussions of killing substantial numbers of animals, and Charlie’s desire to help his family financially so they can keep their land. This desire is what leads him to run away on a plume-hunting expedition with a group of friends. Early in the book, Charlie’s younger sister, Lillie, also runs away and braves the wilderness on her own. These are true stories though, about real people, and we simply have to keep in mind that life in Florida was very different in the 19th and early 20th century. “There are lessons on many levels, and that was intentional. The overlying principle is that our actions on an individual level have a cumulative effect. Once the kids in the story realized the cumulative effect of their actions, it’s something they spent the remainder of their lives trying to compensate for. Especially with Guy Bradley,” Oyer said, referring to Bradley’s career as a game warden for the Everglades. His mission, after his plume-hunting experiences as a teenager, became to protect those same birds for future generations. Oyer hopes children will take these lessons to heart, and apply them to their own lives. “If you have a kid that age, you try to explain something like conserving resources and they don’t quite get it. I think this book helps the children to understand the cumulative effect of not turning your bedroom light off, or taking a shorter shower. The story helps them to understand these concepts, concepts that we need to understand seriously if we’re going to conserve our planet.” PBG SEPTEMBER 2010 37