School Library JournalGr 5-8-This novel about the Great Depression enriches students' understanding of economic deprivation. Saddened and defeated at having to leave Wild Hog Holler when their farm's morgage is foreclosed, Mama is persistent in her demands that Talmadge quit school now that he has reached sixth grade, farther than anyone else in the family has ever gone. But Talmadge, despite the resentment of his brother Dwight, manages, with his father's support, to defy his mother and continue in school. What's more, he fulfills his greatest yearning-to become popular despite the clubfoot and the reputation of being a hillbilly that set him apart. His joy is short-lived, however, when his sister Missy contracts infantile paralysis and is sent to a hospital in Memphis, forcing the family members to make decisions about their futures. What makes this novel worth reading is a genuine family dynamic, a very real mother, and the message that people of every age can have control over their destinies despite hardship.-Susan F. Marcus, Pollard Middle School, Needham, MA
Hazel RochmanSet in the rural South during the Depression, this fine historical novel integrates a strong sense of place and period with a universal story of family love and anger in hard times. The story is told from the perspective of sixth-grader Talmadge, and begins when he and his family lose their Tennessee farm. They eventually find a place in Arkansas, chopping and picking cotton. Talmadge has a clubfoot, and as a newcomer, he struggles for acceptance at school. But the heart of the story is the struggle at home, especially with his mother, who doesn't want him to go to school at all; she thinks he's just trying to escape farm-work and the real world. When the youngest child is stricken with infantile paralysis, the family suffering is intensely drawn, with the oldest brother crying "as if the sobs were breaking loose from chains." Chapters end like the melancholy falling notes of Talmadge's harmonica. There are some flat characters (the inevitable bully called Stinky; the idealized role-model doctor, who also has a clubfoot), but Talmadge and his family are more complicated. He's ashamed that he's ashamed to bring his school friends home. His separation from his mother is shown in all its harshness. She doesn't change; there will always be anger between them, but he finds the courage to break away.
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