Tag Archives: great depression

Goodbye, Mr. Spalding by Jennifer Robin Barr

Goodbye, Mr. Spalding by Jennifer Robin Barr. March 26, 2019. Calkins Creek Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781684371785.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.8; Lexile: 650.

Set in Philadelphia during the Great Depression, this middle-grade historical novel tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy and his best friend as they attempt to stop a wall from being built at Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics, that would block the view of the baseball field from their rooftops.

In 1930s Philadelphia, twelve-year-old Jimmy Frank and his best friend Lola live across the street from Shibe Park, home of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team. Their families and others on the street make extra money by selling tickets to bleachers on their flat rooftops, which have a perfect view of the field. However, falling ticket sales at the park prompt the manager and park owner to decide to build a wall that will block the view. Jimmy and Lola come up with a variety of ways to prevent the wall from being built, knowing that not only will they miss the view, but their families will be impacted from the loss of income. As Jimmy becomes more and more desperate to save their view, his dubious plans create a rift between him and Lola, and he must work to repair their friendship.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Anti-Polish sentiment

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 13))
Grades 4-7. His whole life, 12-year-old Jimmy Frank has been able to see into Philadelphia’s beloved Shibe Park from his bedroom window. But when the owner of the Philadelphia Athletics fears sales on the rooftop bleachers atop homes like Jimmy’s are cutting into profits, they plan to erect a wall. The Great Depression has already tightened Jimmy’s family’s finances and the so-called “spite wall” is sure to further jeopardize their well-being. Jimmy is willing to do just about anything to stop the Athletics from building the wall, but is his partner in crime, his neighbor and BFF Lola, just as willing? Or is the spite wall also erecting a wall in their friendship? This appealing historical middle-grade novel is perfect for fans of beloved baseball-centered novels like Linda Sue Park’s Keeping Score (2008). Barr knows her baseball history and brings rich detail to mid-1930s Philadelphia. While the plot may follow a predictable arc, sports fanatics will eat up the appended material. A sweet debut about friendship and the love of the game.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2019)
Twelve-year-olds Jimmie and Lola will always be best friends forever. That’s Rule No. 12. Shibe Park’s very short right-field fence is across the street from the flat-roofed houses where they live, allowing them to see all the home games of their beloved Philadelphia Athletics from a unique perspective. Homeowners set up bleachers on the roofs (Rule No. 11), charging a small fee for fans who can’t afford stadium tickets, which provides essential income for the families struggling in the Great Depression. Now Mr. Shibe wants to build a high spite fence to block their view, which will endanger their economic survival. Influenced by his other rules involving responsibility and commitment, Jimmie comes up with several harebrained schemes to stop Mr. Shibe while staying constantly watchful of the Polinski brothers, frightening neighborhood bullies (Rule No. 19). Lola abets him in his schemes, but when the dangers seem to outweigh any benefits, their friendship is nearly destroyed. Barr carefully constructs a well-paced adventure, involving some real events in a very specific time and place, while making Jimmie’s worries about negotiating that world completely accessible to modern readers. All the characters, assumed white, are well-developed, even the real Connie Mack and Jimmie Foxx. Quotes from the 1934 Sporting News that head many chapters further illuminate the actual events. The wall gets built, but friendship endures. Life lessons, baseball, and good friends; it’s all here. (author’s note, photographs, resources) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Jennifer Robin Barr is the author of two how-to books for adults. Goodbye, Mr. Spalding is her debut middle-grade novel. She is drawn to writing about little-known nuggets of history. She lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Her website is jenniferrobinbarr.com.

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Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac

Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac. October 23, 2018. Dial Books, 320 p. ISBN: 9780735228863.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.9.

A boy discovers his Native American heritage in this Depression-era tale of identity and friendship by the author of Code Talker

It’s 1932, and twelve-year-old Cal Black and his Pop have been riding the rails for years after losing their farm in the Great Depression. Cal likes being a “knight of the road” with Pop, even if they’re broke. But then Pop has to go to Washington, DC–some of his fellow veterans are marching for their government checks, and Pop wants to make sure he gets his due–and Cal can’t go with him. So Pop tells Cal something he never knew before: Pop is actually a Creek Indian, which means Cal is too. And Pop has decided to send Cal to a government boarding school for Native Americans in Oklahoma called the Challagi School.

At school, the other Creek boys quickly take Cal under their wings. Even in the harsh, miserable conditions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school, he begins to learn about his people’s history and heritage. He learns their language and customs. And most of all, he learns how to find strength in a group of friends who have nothing beyond each other.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 5-8. Multiple compelling Depression-era histories converge in Bruchac’s latest, about a boy attending a government boarding school for Native Americans in 1932. Cal enjoys being a hobo with Pop, riding the rails and doing honest work. But then Pop gives Cal two pieces of life-changing news. The first is that Pop, who Cal always thought was white, is a Creek Indian. Second, Pop is going to D.C. to protest with other WWI veterans for their bonus payments. While Pop is gone, Cal will attend the Challagi Indian Boarding School, where Pop went as a boy. Challagi is a bleak and often brutal place, but, while there, Cal befriends other Native boys from various tribes for the first time. Pop’s recollections of the abuses he witnessed at Challagi are so harsh that readers might initially wonder why he sends his son there—a question Bruchac also thoughtfully addresses in the afterword. But the students’ utter subversion of Challagi’s mission to sever their ties with Indian culture soon becomes apparent, as does Cal’s powerful, growing understanding of his identity.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
Twelve-year-old Cal Blackbird trades the freedom of hobo living with his father, a World War I vet, for the regimented world of Challagi Indian Boarding School. Set in spring and summer of 1932 Depression-era America, Bruchac’s (Abenaki) historical novel sees narrator Cal and his father riding the rails, eking out a meager and honest life as inseparable “knights of the road.” But when Pop reads news about fellow veterans gathering in Washington, D.C., to demand payment of promised bonuses, he decides to “join [his] brother soldiers.” To keep Cal safe while away, Pop tells him about their Creek heritage and enrolls him at Challagi. Even though he’s only “half Creek” and has been raised white, Cal easily makes friends there with a gang of Creek boys and learns more about his language and culture in the process. Though the book is largely educational, Creek readers may notice the language discrepancy when their word for “African-American” is twice used to label a light-skinned Creek boy. Additionally, Cal’s articulation of whiteness sounds more like a 21st-century adult’s then a Depression-era boy’s. More broadly, readers accustomed to encountering characters who struggle along their journeys may find many of the story’s conflicts resolved without significant tension and absent the resonant moments that the subject matter rightly deserves. A lesser-known aspect of Native American history that promises the excitement of riding the rails yet delivers a handcar version of the boarding school experience. (list of characters, afterword) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Joseph Bruchac is a highly acclaimed children’s book author, poet, novelist, and storyteller, as well as a scholar of Native American culture. He is the coauthor of the bestselling Keepers of the Earth series with Michael Caduto. Bruchac’s poems, articles, and stories have appeared in hundreds of publications from Akwesasne Notes and American Poetry Review to National Geographic and Parabola. He has authored many books for adults and children including Code Talker: A Novel about the Navajo Marines of World War TwoSkeleton Man, and The Heart of a Chief.

His website is www.josephbruchac.com

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Orphan Train Girl by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Trial Girl: Young Reader’s Edition by Christina Baker Kline. May 2, 2017. HarperCollins, 228 p. ISBN: 9780062445940.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.6.

This young readers’ edition of Christina Baker Kline’s #1 New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train follows a young foster girl who forms an unlikely bond with a ninety-one-year-old woman. Adapted and condensed for a young audience, Orphan Train Girl includes an author’s note and archival photos from the orphan train era.

Molly Ayer has been in foster care since she was eight years old. Most of the time, Molly knows it’s her attitude that’s the problem, but after being shipped from one family to another, she’s had her fair share of adults treating her like an inconvenience. So when Molly’s forced to help an elderly woman clean out her attic for community service, Molly is wary. Just another adult to treat her like a troublemaker.

But from the very moment they meet, Molly realizes that Vivian, a well-off ninety-one-year-old, isn’t like any of the adults she’s encountered before. Vivian asks Molly questions about her life and actually listens when Molly responds. Molly soon sees they have more in common than she thought. Vivian was once an orphan, too—an Irish immigrant to New York City who was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children—and she can understand, better than anyone else, the emotional binds that have been making Molly’s life so hard. Together, they not only clear boxes of past mementos from Vivian’s attic, but forge a path of friendship, forgiveness, and new beginnings for their future.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Racism and racist language, Child neglect and abuse

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (April 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 16))
Grades 3-6. In this middle-grade adaptation of Kline’s best-selling adult novel, half Penobscot Molly, a modern foster child in rural Maine, finds a kindred spirit in the wealthy nonagenarian Vivian. Caught stealing The Secret Garden from the public library, Molly is forced to help Vivian clean out her attic. Though she’s wary of the elderly lady, she learns the two have something in common. Vivian herself is an orphan, having come to the U.S. from Ireland during the potato famine. When a fire destroys Vivian’s NYC tenement, killing the rest of her family, she’s sent off to Minnesota on an “orphan train.” Third-person passages alternating between Molly and 10-year-old Vivian, born Niamh and renamed by each of the families that takes her in, further flesh out common threads to their experiences. Though the book doesn’t quite pack the powerful emotional punch readers may expect, the muted emotions are situated in the context of the many hardships faced during the Great Depression. Back matter provides further historical context, useful for classroom instruction and enhancing the reading experience. Quietly moving.

Kirkus Reviews (March 15, 2017)
In a young readers’ version of Kline’s Orphan Train (2013), sixth-grader Molly, a foster child on the coast of Maine, helps an elderly woman, Vivian, sort through boxes of keepsakes in her attic.Molly, quietly introspective, is performing community service, assigned (surprisingly) for trying to steal a battered paperback from the public library. In Vivian, she discovers a kindred spirit. The elderly white woman is an orphan too and traveled west in 1929 on an orphan train. In the attic, Molly unwraps objects from Vivian’s childhood, each providing the vehicle for a transition to Vivian’s arduous experiences, first in New York, then on the orphan train, and finally in Minnesota, where she’s shunted from one desperate foster home to another. By comparison, Molly’s experiences under the care of her emotionally abusive foster mother, Dina, seem almost mild. The tale is painted with a broad brush, lacking the gentle nuance of the adult version. Molly, half Penobscot Indian and half white, prefers goth dress and is a vegetarian, but it’s never quite clear why angry, white, unnuanced Dina so dislikes her. Vivian’s more richly evoked story of immigration, poverty, and occasional kindness is more compelling but also simplistic, partly because her character is only about 10 or 11, even at the end of her story. Although interesting, this effort may leave readers wishing to explore unplumbed depths. (Fiction. 10-12)

About the Author

Christina Baker Kline is the author of New York Times instant bestseller A Piece of the World (2017), about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written six other novels — Orphan Train, Orphan Train Girl, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines— and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Her 2013 novel Orphan Train spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list, including five weeks at # 1, and was published in 40 countries. More than 100 communities and colleges have chosen it as a “One Book, One Read” selection. Her adaptation of Orphan Train for young readers is Orphan Train Girl (2017). She lives near New York City and on the coast of Maine.

Her website is www.christinabakerkline.com.

Teacher Resources

Orphan Train Discussion Questions

Orphan Trail Reading Guide

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Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder

Dust Bowl Girls: A Team’s Quest for Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. January 24, 2017. Algonquin Books, 304 p. ISBN: 9781616204662.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

At the height of the Great Depression, Sam Babb, the charismatic basketball coach of tiny Oklahoma Presbyterian College, began dreaming. Like so many others, he wanted a reason to have hope. Traveling from farm to farm, he recruited talented, hardworking young women and offered them a chance at a better life: a free college education if they would come play for his basketball team, the Cardinals.

Despite their fears of leaving home and the sacrifices faced by their families, the women followed Babb and his dream. He shaped the Cardinals into a formidable team, and something extraordinary began to happen: with passion for the game and heartfelt loyalty to one another and their coach, they won every game.

Combining exhilarating sports writing and exceptional storytelling, Dust Bowl Girls conveys the intensity of an improbable journey to an epic showdown with the prevailing national champions, helmed by the legendary Babe Didrikson. And it captures a moment in American sports history when a visionary coach helped his young athletes achieve more than a winning season.

 

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
One of the more unlikely national champions in U.S. sports history was the 1932 women’s basketball team from tiny, financially strapped Oklahoma Presbyterian College. Coach Sam Babb, who, probably not coincidentally, taught Psychology 101 at the school, masterfully recruited talent, solicited funding for the program, created a culture of unselfish team play, devised unorthodox but effective basketball drills, and instilled in his players the self-assurance they would need in facing public opinion that largely considered basketball “unladylike.” And, more urgently, in facing (three times that season) the reigning national champion Dallas Golden Cyclones, led by legendary sportswoman Babe Didrikson. Author Reeder, Babb’s grandniece, had access to such primary materials as player diaries, which reveal the players’ relationships to one another and their coach, and to a dust-bowl era and region marked by serious hardship.

Kirkus Reviews (November 1, 2016)
A former magazine editor tells the story of how, at the height of the Great Depression, her great-uncle trained a group of young women from rural Oklahoma to become college basketball stars.The son of a stern preacher father, Missourian Sam Babb survived a leg amputation in his teenage years to become a successful Oklahoma school superintendent. His career took an unexpected turn in the early 1920s when he decided to become a part-time high school girls basketball coach. By 1929, he had taken a full-time coaching position at Oklahoma Presbyterian College. On a recruiting trip to bring new talent to OPC, Babb discovered a poor farm girl named Doll Harris who, during the 1930-1931 season, would become his “star shot maker” and an All-American player. The team he built that year was good enough to win a sportsmanship trophy at the Amateur Athletic Union national tournament, but Babb believed they could do better. The following year, he recruited other talented girls with promises of scholarships and worked to create a national championship–winning team. With barely enough funding to keep the team going, Babb took his players on a barnstorming tour of the South to raise money. His OPC Cardinals won every game, including one against the reigning champions, the Dallas Golden Cyclones. In the meantime, Harris found herself in direct competition with sports phenomenon Babe Didrikson, the golden girl who knew how to charm fans and “leverage publicity” for her own benefit. As she tells the amazing story of Babb and his underdog women’s basketball team, Reeder also reveals the challenges facing serious female athletes during the 1920s and ’30s, including the perceived risk of “destroying their feminine image by invading a man’s world.” Sports fans and general readers alike are sure to find the story both worthwhile and entertaining. A heartwarmingly inspirational tale.

About the Author

Lydia Ellen Reeder is the grandniece of Sam Babb, the extraordinary basketball coach featured in Dust Bowl Girls. She spent over two years conducting research for the book and also wrote and narrated a short film about the Cardinal basketball team, currently on view at the Oklahoma Historical Society website: youtu.be/fokmbnWmp50. As a former associate editor at Whole Life Times in Los Angeles and Delicious Magazine in Boulder, Colorado, Reeder has worked for many years as a copywriter and editor on behalf of corporate and organizational clients and most recently developed e-learning for a national nursing association. She lives in Denver with her husband and enjoys hiking in the mountains of Colorado.

Dust Bowl Girls is her first book.

Teacher Resources

Dust Bowl Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Dust Bowl Girls on Amazon

Dust Bowl Girls on JLG

Dust Bowl Girls on Goodreads