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Slap Your Sides

Slap Your Sides

by M. E. Kerr

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World War II comes to a small Pennsylvania town in this thought-provoking novel about a peace-loving Quaker family 
War may be raging in Europe, but in Sweet Creek, Pennsylvania, peace is being waged. Bud Shoemaker is vehemently opposed to the war when he registers for the draft as a conscientious objector. No one except his Quaker family shares


World War II comes to a small Pennsylvania town in this thought-provoking novel about a peace-loving Quaker family 
War may be raging in Europe, but in Sweet Creek, Pennsylvania, peace is being waged. Bud Shoemaker is vehemently opposed to the war when he registers for the draft as a conscientious objector. No one except his Quaker family shares Bud’s pacifist views—although his thirteen-year-old brother, Jubal, wonders what kind of Quaker he’ll be when it comes time for him to enlist. Jubal loves and believes in his brother, even if the whole town—including Daria Daniel, the girl Jubal secretly loves—doesn’t.
With everyone calling Bud a coward, Jubal’s family is slowly being torn apart. But when an unexpected, vicious act forces Jubal to grapple with man’s penchant for violence, he has to grow up fast in a community in which killing becomes the measure of a man.
Slap Your Sides is a riveting tale of courage and conscience that delivers a timeless, universal message about what makes a hero and what it really means to be a patriot.
This ebook features an illustrated personal history of M. E. Kerr including rare images from the author’s collection.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The 13-year-old son of a Pennsylvania Quaker family admires his oldest brother for adhering to his antiwar convictions despite hostility from neighbors and relatives. "Kerr does not shy away from difficult questions, nor does she resolve them for readers," said PW in a starred review. "As memorable as any of Kerr's work." Ages 12-up. (Feb.)
Children's Literature
Set in and around Doylestown, PA, where kids drink pop, play sports and ride horses, and where just about everyone knows everyone, the cordiality of the town is torn down during the beginning of World War II. Bud Shoemaker, son of a Quaker storekeeper, registers for the draft as a conscientious objector, declining to align with a service branch. This does not sit well with those townsfolk whose sons have gone into combat positions or serve in the military service in a noncombatant position. Assigned and sent to the Civilian Public Service, Bud performs various duties for the duration of the war without pay, such as felling trees, working as an orderly in a mental asylum, or serving in a community kitchen. He experiences a different type of war, directed at him for his convictions. This story, pulling Bud in from time to time, is more about the town and the people who are left behind¾old, young, male, female, friend, family or foe. Told from the perspective of Bud's youngest brother, Jubal, we watch a young man wrestle with man's inhumanity to man both at home and abroad, the struggle to find his own path, how to stand on his own feet, and how to navigate through troubling waters of public opinion and prejudice. M.E. Kerr has masterfully woven a work of historical fiction, based on her own experiences and thorough research that is sure to touch all readers. 2001, HarperCollins, $15.95. Ages 12 up. Reviewer:Mary Sue Preissner
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2001: The title is the usual witty one from Kerr, but otherwise this is a straightforward, serious work of historical fiction. It is set during WW II, in Pennsylvania, as a Quaker family faces the realities of being conscientious objectors. There are three sons in the family, and the youngest son, Jubal, tells the story. The oldest son, Bud, has chosen to be a pacifist to the extent that he will have no part in the war effort, and he is put to work in a mental hospital where he gets no real salary for doing excruciatingly difficult work. He endures this, telling his brothers about the reality of the situation without complaining, but it means that back home their father's department store loses most of its business. Even in a town with Quakers and Mennonites, feelings run high against pacifists as other local boys are fighting and dying in the war. The middle son, Tommy, has a lot of style and intelligence: when he goes to register for the draft, it turns out that he is 4F—physically unfit because of an ear injury. Jubal watches all this go on in his family over the course of the war, from 1942 to 1945, and he is concerned, but he is also somewhat obsessed by his relationship with Daria, a neighbor girl whose older brothers are fighting overseas. The families had been friends before the war divided them, but now Daria and Jubal have to sneak out to be together—they ride horses on Saturday afternoons at the farm where Jubal works. The story comes to an unexpected climax one afternoon in the barn, when Jubal hears Daria crying for help and rushes to defend her. His violent act toward another human being makes him rethink all hisown positions on nonviolence. This is an unexpected book by Kerr. It tells an important story of adolescents struggling with their own weaknesses during difficult times. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, HarperTrophy, 198p.,
— Claire Rosser
In Kerr's earlier book Linger (HarperCollins, 1993/VOYA August 1993), the author presented a side of war not glimpsed often in the pages of a young adult novel. In her latest offering, Kerr again tackles a little-known aspect, the plight of those who objected to the war on religious grounds and refused to be drafted into the army. When World War II breaks out, Jubal's Quaker family members find themselves the target of hatred in their small town. The conflict begins when Jubal's oldest brother, Bud, registers as a conscientious objector, and other citizens take issue with what they perceive as an act of cowardice. The family hardware store is vandalized repeatedly by someone painting a yellow letter Y on the front window. When customers stop coming in, the family faces further challenges. Jubal knows that his brother has done the right thing by refusing to go off to war, but how can the family survive? Jubal struggles to reconcile his religious beliefs with the news of what Hitler is doing to eradicate the Jews throughout Europe. What will his decision be when he is drafted? What does it take to be a hero? What makes someone a coward? Is it wrong to stand up for one's beliefs if it means hurting someone else—especially a loved one? Kerr provides no easy answers in her novel. Instead, questions about principles and morals and values are sure to abound after students read this thought-provoking novel. Be sure to recommend this book to the history teachers when it comes time to study WWII. Here is a story not often told in text or trade books. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; SeniorHigh, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001, HarperCollins, 208p, $15.95. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer: Teri S. Lesesne
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-As a religious Quaker, Jubal Shoemaker's older brother Bud has registered as a conscientious objector during World War II, and suddenly things change for his family. Graffiti labeling Bud a slacker appears on the family department store, longtime employees and customers leave without warning, and the Shoemakers' marriage becomes strained. Jubal catches the person vandalizing the store-a girl named Daria Daniel, whose father hosts a radio show supporting the soldiers and whose twin brothers are off fighting. He falls in love with her even though he doesn't always agree with her views, but her father forbids her to have anything to do with him. Tensions increase in town and at the farm where the 13-year-old works until he accidentally kills a mentally ill Quaker while trying to protect Daria and must face the fact that he has taken another person's life. Bud, Jubal, and their mother hold firm to their religious pacifism, but Jubal is troubled by reports on the radio and from his Aunt Lizzie-a former Quaker now married to a Jew-about the atrocities being committed in Nazi Germany. The characters lack the skillful development found in Kerr's earlier books. Jubal and his brothers seem flat, and Daria and Aunt Lizzie are far more interesting. Still, Slap Your Sides will provoke thought and discussion about religion, war, and morality.-Lisa Prolman, Greenfield Public Library, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a small Pennsylvania town during WWII, Kerr (What Became of Her, 2000, etc.) demonstrates her command of time, place, and atmosphere in this tale about the effect a young man's decision has on his family and the community at large when he decides to become a conscientious objector. It's a subject that is rarely examined, and although the story is light on drama and heavy on talk, Kerr's scrutiny of the various issues is thoughtful and fair-minded. When Jubal Shoemaker is 13, his older brother Bud, a devout Quaker with "a self righteous streak" leaves the family to work in a Civilian Public Service camp rather than joining the military. Although several Quakers in the community join the service as noncombatants, Bud is the only one who eschews the armed forces all together. As more and more young men go off to fight and die, Bud's choice becomes an embarrassment to Jubal's father, a proud business owner. Customers drop away and his ambivalence and anger causes a rift in his marriage and a breakdown of his spirit. Jubal, however, sees Bud's actions as essentially moral and courageous and wonders if he'll have the guts to emulate him when his time comes. His heart is further pulled when he develops a secret quasi-romantic relationship with the daughter of a jingoistic radio host whose sons are soldiers. The surprise ending strains credibility as it tries to have it both ways, and the story concludes on an odd melancholy note. Nevertheless, this is engrossing and thought-provoking. (Fiction. 12-15)

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Read an Excerpt

Slap Your Sides

By M. E. Kerr


Copyright © 2001 M. E. Kerr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6000-3


I WAS THIRTEEN THE winter everything changed. I knew, even on the cold December night Bud left, that our family would never be the same again. Everyone was at the dinner table: Bud, me, Mom, Dad, my other brother, Tommy, and Hope Hart, from the next town over, Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

No one was saying anything except what began with "Please pass the ..." I hated the way no one would talk about it, but not enough to mention it myself. Someone had left the radio on in the living room. We could hear Radio Dan signing off. He was a number-one cornball, but I listened to him sometimes, secretly. He was the only celebrity I had a personal acquaintance with, despite the fact that he wasn't always sure which Shoemaker kid I was. He lived down at the end of our street. He had this deep, friendly voice. You'd think he'd understand anything you told him. But I knew better. He wouldn't understand what Bud was doing, that was for sure.

My father got up, went in, and turned him off. He hardly ever listened to the radio anymore. Everything was about the war.

A rib roast, Bud's favorite, was being slowly eaten in silence. Even Mahatma, our old collie, who favored Bud over all of us, seemed to sense something dire was taking place. He lay just outside the dining room, his eyes fixed on Bud.

When we finally left the house to take Bud to his train, Mom was crying and hanging on to him. Bud didn't want Mom to see him off. She said she'd send him some of her gingerbread and macaroons.

"I don't even know if we can get packages from home," Bud said.

"Of course you can!" Mom said.

Dad said, "Maybe he can't. We don't know how they feel about it."

"Well, he's not going to prison, Ef."

"No, he's not—and he's not going to Boy Scout camp, either."

"Ef, what a mean thing to say!"

"I didn't mean it mean."

"Don't send me anything, okay?" Bud said.

Mom cried out, "Come inside, Mahatma! You can't go with him!"

I thought I'd get to ride in back with Bud. I couldn't get used to Bud having a steady girl. He'd been with Hope almost two years, but I kept thinking it was like a case of measles or chicken pox—it'd go away in a while.

"Jubal, ride up here with me and Tom," Dad said to me.

Tommy put the radio on. There wasn't going to be any conversation on the way to the train.

In the back of the Buick, Bud and Hope were sitting so close, you'd think there were passengers on either side of them. They were holding hands. Earlier that evening Hope had given Bud a silver identification bracelet with their initials on the front and "MIND THE LIGHT" on the inside.

Hope Hart was a Goody Two-shoes and an optimist, the kind whose sunny ways wore you down eventually. She had hair a color in between red and brown, and brown eyes. She always knew the right way to walk in and out of rooms, and what to say in them. It was a skill Bud didn't have. He scowled his way through most social gatherings.

Hope was a year older than Bud, and she already had a college degree in home economics. I wanted to like her. I didn't want to blame her for everything that was happening to Bud.

"'Remember Pearl Harbor,'" a male chorus sang on the radio.

Dad snapped, "Shut that off!"

"I'll change the station," Tommy said.

"It'll be the same everywhere," Dad grumbled.

Tommy tried, got "Silent Night," tried again and got "White Christmas," tried again and got some news commentator saying production of automobiles had stopped and the factories were being changed over to airplane and tank factories. In a short time production of new radios for home use would be cut in half because the materials were needed for the war. Rubber, tin, and aluminum had become precious and were being saved for only the most important uses. Men's suits—

"Turn it off, Tom!"

"Yes, sir."

I glanced up at Tommy, and he gave me a weak smile. He was seventeen. Bud was twenty. I was the baby. But all of us looked alike. We all had thick black hair, sturdy builds, and the Shoemaker light-blue eyes.

Anyone in Sweet Creek could spot us as Efram Shoemaker's kids. E. F. SHOEMAKER was the sign over the only department store in town. My father called himself E. F. because he'd never liked the name Efram. Most people called him that, anyway. If you never liked the name, why did you give it to Bud, I'd asked him? Tradition, the answer came back. There'd been an Efram Shoemaker in Delaware County since the sixteen hundreds. Bud was Efram Elam Shoemaker. Elam after our grandfather, just as I was Jubal after our great-great-grandfather. Lucky for Tommy that our great-grandfather was named Thomas.


WHILE MY FATHER PARKED the car, Tommy, Hope, Bud, and I went into the station.

When everyone sat down, I asked Bud, "Aren't you going to get a ticket?"

"I already have a ticket, Jube."

"When did you get it?"

"The government's paying his way," Tommy said.

"They are?" I was surprised. I thought that was the last thing the government would do: spring for a ticket for a conscientious objector.

"How long do you have to wait in New York before your train to Colorado?" Hope asked. She was wearing her hair pageboy style. She was in a red-plaid pleated skirt with boots and a white turtleneck sweater under a navy-blue pea jacket.

"It's just a few hours' wait," Bud said.

"But what will you do at this time of night?" Hope asked.

Bud tried a grin but didn't quite manage it. "There's always something to do in New York," he said, making it sound as though he knew all there was to know about Manhattan. He'd been there only once, years ago, for a Boy Scout jamboree.

Tommy said, "You could call Aunt Lizzie."

"I don't think she'd want me to call her," Bud said.

"Sure she would. You were always her favorite."

"Was," said Bud. "Now, who knows?"

Bud was the tallest, six foot four. He beat dad by two inches and Tommy by four. I was five five, still growing, but of all of us I was the muscle man ... the strongest ... the champion weight lifter at Sweet Creek Friends School. Although we three boys had gone to Quaker school, when Sweet Creek High was built, Tommy transferred because their basketball team was tops. Tommy was a top player.

Dad came in from the parking lot, and right behind him was Radio Dan and one of his kids.

If you didn't know Dan Daniel, you'd never expect that voice. He sounded like Orson Welles, Lowell Thomas, or any of the others who would keep you glued to the radio.

In person Radio Dan was plump and medium height, balding with a beer belly. He always wore polka-dot bow ties, blue ones, green ones, yellow ones. Were they clip-ons? He liked to wear V-neck sleeveless sweaters, the same color, with them. Under his right eye was a red birthmark shaped like Lake Ontario.

"Ssshoot!" Tommy said. "Radio Dan and Dean!"

"So act like who cares," I said.

"Who does care?" Bud shrugged.

You had to cross a bridge to New Jersey to get to the Trenton train station. Everyone seemed to be saying good-bye at railroad or bus stations those days. There were uniforms everywhere. Some of the guys wearing them looked to me like kids dressed up to play war games in their backyards.

That's what Dean Daniel looked like that evening. This skinny boy dressed up like a Marine. His ears stuck out at the sides of his cap. He'd been my junior counselor in Cub Scout camp one summer, but he'd called for his folks to come and get him because he was terrified of spiders. Dean was a twin, but when you saw him with Danny Jr., they didn't even look like brothers. Danny Jr. looked tough, and he was.

The Daniels said hello to us and sat down on a bench nearby. Radio Dan was lighting a cigarette and passing the pack to Dean.

My father's ears were red. I'd always thought he wasn't comfortable with what Bud was doing. He'd never said as much, but I'd overheard conversations between Mom and him, and I'd heard him say he wasn't sure he'd have made the same decision.

"Is the train on time?" Dad asked Tommy. His voice was so low, Tommy had to ask him what he said.

He said it again, then shuffled his feet and stole a glance back at the Daniels.

Everyone in Sweet Creek knew about Bud, particularly Radio Dan. He knew all the town gossip. Nothing was secret for long in a town of twenty thousand. Bud had been asked not to lead his Scout troop last fall. When he drove up to Texaco in his old Ford, with the A gas rationing sticker on the windshield, the help took their time coming out to collect his coupon and gas him up. It was the same when he stopped at The Sweet Creek Diner for coffee, or went into Acme Food Stores for groceries. No one wanted to be of service to Bud Shoemaker.

"Please don't wait for the train," Bud said.

"We want to wait with you, Bud," Dad said.

"We're waiting," said Tommy.

"I don't want you to wait," Bud said.

I sang a little of "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," trying to provide some comic relief. But I knew there was no such thing as relief for Bud's situation. It was just going to get worse every day the war lasted.

I went into the men's, and Tommy followed me.

"I bet Dad hates having Radio Dan here!" Tommy said.

I knew that Tommy hated it too. Dean was home on leave from boot camp on Parris Island, South Carolina. Danny Jr., his twin, had joined the Marines when he was seventeen.

A few days ago Tommy and I had run into Dean in town. He was with his kid sister, Darie. She was my age but older-looking and -acting, the ways girls have of becoming people before boys do. She hadn't bothered to greet me, just stood there regarding me with these cool, bored eyes, as though in her short time on this planet she had rarely been subjected to an encounter with anyone as ordinary as I was.

Dean had punched his palm with his fist and told us he couldn't wait to kill a Jap. Then he'd covered his mouth with his hand and said, "Whoops! Wrong person to tell that to!"

Tommy had shrugged and said, "I'm not partial to Japs."

"You'd never kill one, I bet!" Darie Daniel had piped up. She was always in Sweet Creek High plays, particularly the ones with music. Twice a night, there was a recording of her singing Radio Dan's theme song: "Slap Your Sides." I'd seen her in a few Gilbert and Sullivan operas. She was cocky and a little tomboyish, and she could belt a song so you'd hear it down to City Hall.

Tommy'd answered her, "I doubt I'd ever kill anyone."

"Even if someone was holding a gun to your mother's head?" Darie Daniel had said. "What would you do then?"

"I'd sic my bulldog, here, on him." Tommy had ruffled my hair and grinned down at me.

I remembered Bud had said the draft board had asked him those kinds of questions. What would you do if you saw a man raping a woman? Et cetera.

"Let's drop the subject," Dean'd said. "It's the last thing I want to talk about when I'm home on leave."

"I know how to shoot a gun," Darie Daniel had said. "And I'd have no compunction about blasting away if anyone dared hurt a member of my family!" She had a smart-aleck way about her, but she was cute; she could get away with it.

On the way back from town, Tommy had said, "This damn damn war!"

That night while he washed his hands beside me in the men's, Tommy muttered, "Radio Dan's going to mention this, wait and see!"


"At least Darie wasn't with them."

"Who cares about Darie?"

"I have to go to school with her," said Tommy. "You don't."

"It's Bud I feel sorry for," I said.

"Nothing fazes Bud as long as he's got Hopeful." Tommy laughed.

"That's the truth," I said.

When we came back out, Tommy checked on Bud's train and called out, "Track Three. All aboard, Bud!"

The Daniels got up too. There was only one train heading for New York.

I was watching a woman in a fur coat hanging on the arm of a soldier. I remembered when Aunt Lizzie had sent Mom a coat one winter, saying she'd bought it on sale and couldn't return it. She didn't fool Winifred Shoemaker. My mother knew that was Lizzie's way of sharing her good fortune with her sister. Aunt Lizzie's husband was a successful artist, and she had a good job in advertising. My mother had no sooner taken the coat from its box and shaken out the wrinkles than Bud had snapped open his Scout knife and cut off the fur collar.

"Mom, you don't want animals killed so your neck can be warm, do you?" He'd tossed the fur in the wastebasket.

"I'd like to be asked first, Bud," Mom had said.

"Next time I will. I promise."

But he wouldn't. Dad claimed Bud had a self-righteous streak. Once some hunters had left dead fowl in their station wagon and gone back to the woods to shoot more. Bud had passed the car, and he'd taken the pheasants, brought them home, and buried them in the backyard.

"How do you know they weren't planning to have pheasant for their suppers?" Dad had asked. My father was not against hunting for food on your table.

"They were going to sell them!" Bud had insisted.

"How do you know, Bud?"

"I just know."

Suddenly, servicemen seemed to come from everywhere, all heading for Track 3.

Dad stopped and held up his hand. "We'll say our good-byes here."

He hugged Bud and then Tommy did.

"I'll write you, Bud," I said. I was in tears.

Bud bent down and held me tight. "You take care of Mom," he said. "And Hope."

"Okay, I will."

"You and Tommy help the Harts with those horses, okay? And take special care of Quinn."

"I will," I promised. Quinn was a chestnut gelding, Bud's favorite of all the horses the Harts boarded or held for sale.

"I'll write you from Colorado," Bud said.

Radio Dan and his boy had stopped a few feet away.

"Take care of yourself, son!" that fabulous voice rang out.

I could hear Hope whispering to Bud, "I love thee. I'll wait for thee, Bud, for as long as need be."

"And I love thee."

They were speaking the old-fashioned "plain language" some Friends still used with family and at meetings.

Nobody in our family had used it until Bud met Hope when he took the summer job on their farm. After that I would hear Bud speak it nights on the telephone. I think of thee all the time.

As a young man Dad had not thought of himself as a strict Quaker. He wasn't a regular at the meetinghouse. His family way back was; then he was when he met my mother. Tommy was a lot like Dad. But Bud and I were believers. We would never have considered a school that wasn't Quaker. Bud chose to go to Swarthmore College. Sometimes when he was home and would speak at Sweet Creek meeting, I would hear how serious he was about religion. I would be surprised at Bud's anger, telling off Friends at meeting, saying they were some of the most successful businessmen in the county, but did they tithe, did they give ten percent of their earnings to Friends? Bud bet not! His eyes were fire, and I would be amazed. I also worried that I wasn't as strong as Bud. When it came my time to register for the draft, what kind of a Quaker would I be?

My dad said that it was a good thing Bud had found Hope. Hope, he had said, was more like Bud than Bud was. The whole Hart family were passionate Quakers, a bit on the humorless side.

After our good-byes we left Hope standing alone with Bud, locked in this long kiss.

Radio Dan headed for the exit too, then paused to light another cigarette.

"What's going to happen to Bud now?" I asked my father, keeping my voice down. "Will he have a job?" I knew that because Bud was a conscientious objector, he was going to a Civilian Public Service camp. But I was still in the dark about what would become of him next. I had the feeling he didn't know himself.

"Wait until we get home."

E. F. Shoemaker Company and radio station WBEA were on the same side of Pilgrim Lane, a few doors from each other. Tuesdays Dad and Radio Dan went to Rotary together. Before Rotary, Dad would stop by the radio station to pick up Radio Dan and walk down to Sweet Creek Inn with him, for the luncheon meeting.

And there the two of them were in Trenton: one seeing his second son off to war, and Dad seeing Bud off to Colorado, about as far away from any war as he could get.

When Hope caught up with us, for the first time her eyes had a watery look, but she was holding her chin up, smiling.

She said, "Bud's going to be fine!" Then, probably for Radio Dan's benefit, "I'm so proud of him!"

Tommy held the door open for her. "He's lucky he's got you."

Behind me Dad made a strange sound somewhere between a hum and a low groan.


AUNT LIZZIE DIDN'T HAVE any qualms about wearing furs. She handed my father what had once been a fox, with black button eyes and a bushy fur tail.

"How's Bud doing?" she asked my father.

"Fine! He's getting lots of exercise, cutting down trees, clearing forests."

"In freezing weather," my mother added.


Excerpted from Slap Your Sides by M. E. Kerr. Copyright © 2001 M. E. Kerr. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

M. E. Kerr was born Marijane Meaker in Auburn, New York. Her interest in writing began with her father, who loved to read, and her mother, who loved to tell stories of neighborhood gossip. Unable to find an agent to represent her work, Meaker became her own agent, and wrote articles and books under a series of pseudonyms: Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich, Laura Winston, M. E. Kerr, and Mary James. As M. E. Kerr, Meaker has produced over twenty novels for young adults and won multiple awards, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her lifetime contribution to young adult literature. 

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