In this stunning photo-documentary, Russell Freedman takes an unflinching look at America’s Great Depression and its smallest and youngest victims. Upper elementary and secondary students today, many of whom live in an atmosphere of conspicuous consumerism, cannot begin to imagine what life must have been like during this time. Scores of stark black and white photos make it abundantly clear. Freedman incorporates anecdotes and quotes from those who experienced these hard times, and, with the photos, creates multiple opportunities to discuss with youngsters this difficult time in American history. Children went unwashed, not because they were ignorant or lazy, but because water was scarce in the migrant camps. People wore ragged clothes because there were no materials available to patch them up, and certainly no money to replace them. Children died of malnutrition because there simply was no food. Freedman covers a lot of ground, from boxcar kids (not the cute children that come to mind, but hard-luck young men and women who had no choice but to ride the rails or be a burden to their families), to the Dust Bowl and farm evictions leading to migrant work, to the movie and radio shows that attempted to bolster America’s spirits with stories of pure-hearted heroes and heroines, plucky orphans, and cliff-hanger plots. He also takes aim at the difficulties children faced in getting an education, as labor and the menial pay it afforded was more important to the family than learning to read and write. Perhaps the most poignant of all are the excerpts from letters children wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, explaining in plain terms the struggles they faced, and in their naivete asking her for money, books, a radio, or other simple items on their very short wish lists. I highly recommend this 118-page book, and feel it is appropriate to a wide age-range of readers. It includes an index which refers to both text and photos. 2005 Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction
118 pages 978-0618446308 Ages 9-13 Grades 4-8
Recommended by Jane Behrens, Librarian
Book Pairing: Pair this book with Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
As he did for frontier children in his enormously popular Children of the Wild West, Russell Freedman illuminates the lives of the American children affected by the economic and social changes of the Great Depression. Middle-class urban youth, migrant farm laborers, boxcar kids, children whose families found themselves struggling for survival . . . all Depression-era young people faced challenges like unemployed and demoralized parents, inadequate food and shelter, schools they couldn’t attend because they had to go to work, schools that simply closed their doors. Even so, life had its bright spots—like favorite games and radio shows—and many young people remained upbeat and optimistic about the future.
Drawing on memoirs, diaries, letters, and other firsthand accounts, and richly illustrated with classic archival photographs, this book by one of the most celebrated authors of nonfiction for children places the Great Depression in context and shows young readers its human face. Endnotes, selected bibliography, index.--from the publisher