Stepping on the Cracks

Stepping on the Cracks

4.4 108
by Mary Downing Hahn

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Margaret and her best friend Elizabeth both have brothers fighting the war against Hitler and, like everyone else they know, they are filled with feelings of patriotism. But the girls are also involved in their own personal war at home. Gordy Smith, the worst bully in sixth grade, teases and torments them, and Margaret is scared to death of him. But when Gordy and… See more details below

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Margaret and her best friend Elizabeth both have brothers fighting the war against Hitler and, like everyone else they know, they are filled with feelings of patriotism. But the girls are also involved in their own personal war at home. Gordy Smith, the worst bully in sixth grade, teases and torments them, and Margaret is scared to death of him. But when Gordy and his pals Toad and Doug grow bolder than ever, Margaret and Elizabeth come up with a daring plan to get even. That's when the girls discover a shocking secret about Gordy that turns their lives upside-down and draws them into a startling confrontation with family, friends...and their own strongly held ideas.

Author Biography:

Always interested in writing, Mary Downing Hahn became a children's author only after experimenting with a wide variety of careers, from junior high school art teacher to college instructor to children's librarian. Today she is the author of more than twenty books that have appeared on countless state awards lists. Her stories run the gamut from historical fiction such as the popular Gordy trilogy, to ghost stories such as Wait Till Helen Comes and Look for Me by Moonlight. Her most recent work, Anna All Year Round, is a gentle and heartwarming story based on her own mother's diaries.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
There is a war going on, World War II, and Elizabeth and Margaret have brothers fighting in Europe. On the home front these sixth-graders have their own war going on with class bully Gordy Smith. The girls plot to get even and during their plan they uncover an amazing secret about Gordy. It makes for a page turning story. Hahn raises many issues, among which are pacification, dealing with a bully, and developing self-esteem. Even though the story is set in the past these are the same issues facing today's sixth graders. Widely praised and reviewed, this book is a great choice for middle readers.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8In a small southern town in 1944, two girls secretly help a seriously ill army deserter, a decision that changes their perceptions of right and wrong. Issues of moral ambiguity and accepting consequences for actions are thoughtfully considered in this deftly crafted story. (Dec. 1991)
From the Publisher

"There is plenty of action and page-turning suspense (and) much to ponder and reflect on as well." School Library Journal, Starred

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One afternoon in August, Elizabeth and I were sprawled on my front porch playing an endless game of monopoly (or Monotony, as Elizabeth called it).

"Your turn," I announced. I'd just passed the bank and picked up two hundred dollars to add to my pile of paper money. For once, I was definitely winning.

When she drew a card that told her to go to jail, Elizabeth threw it down. She was already broke and in debt to me because I owned Atlantic Place and her man kept landing on it. Every time that happened, she had to hand me five hundred dollars rent.

Elizabeth scowled at her little pile of money and ran a hand through her blonde hair, putting a few more tangles in it. Then she poked the Monopoly board with one bare foot, just hard enough to slide the expensive hotels and cottages off my property. Our little men rolled across the porch, and some of the paper money fluttered away.

"Let's go somewhere before I keel over and die of boredom," Elizabeth said.

Ignoring her, I crawled around, gathering up the playing pieces. Unlike Elizabeth, I was perfectly content to spend the rest of the day where we were. The heat had melted my bones away, and I felt as limp as a rag doll. "It's too hot," I muttered, "to do anything."

But Elizabeth wasnt listening. Climbing to the porch railing, she grinned down at me. "Dare me to jump?"

Before I could say yes or no, Elizabeth hollered "Geronimo!" Arching her body, she flew through the air like a circus acrobat and landed gracefully on the grass. "Come on, Margaret," sheshouted.

Not wanting to be a sissy baby, I held my breath, leapt off the railing, and hit the ground so hard I knocked the scab off my skinned knee. As I spit on my finger to wipe the blood away, Elizabeth hopped down the sidewalk.

"Step on a crack," she yelled, break Hitler's back! Step on a crack, break Hitler's back!"

Despite the heat, I stamped along behind Elizabeth. Under my bare feet, I saw Hitler's face on the cement his beady eyes, his mustache, his mean little slit of a mouth. I shouted and pounded him into the pavement, and every time I said his name it was like swearing. It was Hitler's fault my brother Jimmy was in the army, Hitler's fault Mother cried when she thought I wouldn't hear, Hitler's fault Daddy never laughed or told jokes, Hitler's fault, Hitler's fault, Hitler's most horrible fault. I hated him and his Nazis with a passion so strong and deep it scared me.

Behind me, the screen door opened, and Mother called,

"Margaret, how often do I have to tell you not to jump like that?" She frowned at me from the porch. "You won't be happy till you ruin your insides, will you?"

Elizabeth grinned at Mother, her eyes squinted against the sun. "Hi, Mrs. Baker," she said.

Mother looked at Elizabeth, but she didn't return her smile. "What was all that shouting?" she asked. "You two were making enough noise to wake the dead."

"It's a game I thought up," Elizabeth said "Step on a crack," she yelled, jumping hard on the sidewalk to demonstrate. "Break Hitler's back!"

"When I was your age, we said, 'Step on a crack, break your mother's back,'" Mother told-her. "We tried hard not to step on the cracks."

"That was before Hitler," Elizabeth said. The world was different then."

Mother leaned against the door frame, her arms folded across her chest, and sighed. "Yes," she said, agreeing for once with Elizabeth. "I guess it was."

For a moment or two, no one said anything. I saw Mother glance at the blue star hanging in our living room window, and I knew what she was thinking. That star meant Jimmy was overseas fighting a war Hitler started. There was a star in Elizabeth's window, too, because her brother Joe was in the Navy. That summer, there were stars in lots of windows in College Hill, and not all of them were blue. Some, like the one across the street in the Bedfords' window, were gold. The Bedfords' son Harold had been killed in Italy last summer. That was what gold meant.

In the silence, I heard a surge of organ music from our radio. It was time for "The Romance of Helen Trent," one of Mother's favorite soap operas. As she opened the screen door to go inside, Mother paused and looked at Elizabeth. "Where are you two going this afternoon?" she asked.

"Bike riding," Elizabeth said, as if I'd already agreed.

"Don't you dare take Margaret down that hill on Beech Drive," Mother said. "You almost killed yourselves last time."

But she was speaking to the air. Elizabeth had already darted through a gap in the hedge between our houses. In a few seconds she was back with her brother Joe's bike, an old Schwinn. The crossbar was so high Elizabeth could barely straddle it, but she rode it anyway.

Taking my seat on the carrier over the rear wheel, I held on to Elizabeth's waist as she pushed off across the grass. Wobbling till she picked up speed, she pedaled along Garfield Road toward Dartmoor Avenue.

The hot sunlight poured down through the green leaves, dappling the dirt road with a lacy pattern of shadows, and the Schwinn's big balloon tires bounced over the ruts. Mrs. Bedford waved to us from her front porch, Mrs. Porter smiled at us from her side yard, where she was hanging her laundry out to dry, and old Mr. Zimmerman nodded to us from the corner.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Hahn succeeds in raising questions that are as valuable as they are vexing Publishers Weekly

Plenty of action and page-turning suspense.
School Library Journal, Starred

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