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The Amazing Thinking Machine

The Amazing Thinking Machine

by Dennis Haseley, Kazuhiko Sano (Illustrator)
Patrick has a lot of questions about why everything seems so difficult during the Great Depression. For starters, why does his father have to leave for weeks at a time to look for work? And what is it about the tramps down by the train tracks that makes his mother so sad? One day Patrick's older brother, Roy, comes up with an amazing idea for a machine that will be


Patrick has a lot of questions about why everything seems so difficult during the Great Depression. For starters, why does his father have to leave for weeks at a time to look for work? And what is it about the tramps down by the train tracks that makes his mother so sad? One day Patrick's older brother, Roy, comes up with an amazing idea for a machine that will be able to answer any question-a machine that can actually think. While other kids try to stump it with trivia, Patrick asks the machine the questions closest to his heart. Who would guess that the answers would change his life?

Dennis Haseley's beautifully crafted novel is both funny and poignant as it traces the emotionally charged tale of a young boy coming into his own.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Eight-year-old Patrick lives in confusing times. The Depression is at its height and Patrick's father has left home to search for work to support the family. While Patrick's mother consistently offers hope for better days to come, Patrick and his older brother, Roy can't shake their fear/anger at the tramps who come to their house begging for food, nor can they shake their worries over their father's welfare. Then Roy decides that as the oldest "man" in the house, he must do something to both help the family and make Patrick feel more secure. So the boys begin to build the Amazing Thinking Machine, who, for a small amount of "fuel" will answer any question posed to it. Immediately popular with the neighborhood children, "Mr. Machine" tells anyone who poses a question the "right" answer, often with hilarious responses. But Patrick still can't forget the tramp he saw who looked remarkably like his father, nor can he find as much solace in the ready answers of Mr. Machine...until the day the machine seems to work without Roy's manipulation. This is truly a wonderful book, and I appreciated the subtlety in the manner in which Haseley allows us to explore with his characters the difficulties of the hobo life for so many men in the 30's as well as the desperation their families must have felt wondering about the safety of their fathers/sons/husbands. The characters are all multi-dimensional, and Haseley balances humor and history in the best manner possible. This book is a necessary addition to anyone's library, especially for those looking for historical fiction from a male perspective. 2002, Dial Books,
— Jean Boreen
It is the time of the Depression, and eight-year-old Patrick's father is away looking for work. His mother's brave face does not mask the strain of scrounging food for Patrick and his older brother, Roy, and for the occasional hobo who comes begging. As a distraction, Roy announces that he and Patrick are going to build the Amazing Thinking Machine, which can send and receive messages, complete with tubes, lights, and a fuel slot. Soon the neighborhood kids are hanging out, clamoring for a demo. Even in the midst of the harsh deprivation that is eroding their neighborhood, the children scrape up the penny or odd can of food that Roy says is needed to fuel the machine. Roy and Patrick work as a team to entertain their audience with the machine's humor and wisdom, which it spits out on scraps of paper, and collect food that ends up on their table. A lovely little tale that might be too understated for its intended young audience, this novel would work effectively in a classroom or family discussion as a follow-up title to Christopher Paul Curtis's Bud, Not Buddy (Delacorte, 1999/VOYA February 2000). VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2002, Dial, 128p,
— Beth Andersen
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Patrick, 8, and Roy, 13, live with their mother while their father is away, looking for work. It's 1929, and the boys are acutely aware of and frightened by the unemployed, broken, and sad "bums" who inhabit a vacant lot; but their deepest fear is that their father has joined the ranks of these desperate men. Roy comes up with the idea for an "Amazing Thinking Machine," which the siblings create from wood and spare parts. Neighborhood kids are invited to "fuel" it with pennies or food and feed in questions written on scraps of paper; hidden inside, Roy or another youth sends out typewritten, witty answers. The novelty of the machine takes the brothers' minds off difficult questions about their father and the identity of the homeless man who visits their house. When their father returns at last with work, the boys begin to face their feelings of abandonment and the realities of the times. Haseley explores the issues of identity and surface appearances, and he introduces readers to destitute characters, some of whom rise above the fray, while others fall victim to the turmoil. Patrick's voice is strong and believable, and Roy comes to life through his brother's eyes. While some readers may find the boys' aversion to the homeless men puzzling, this book has much to offer historical fiction fans.-Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Roy's younger brother, Pat, narrates a tale of trying to make do during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Their father, like so many others, has left home in search of work to support the family, and their mother sells her knitting to help. Thirteen-year-old Roy builds a large, black box and adds doodads and gadgets to make it appear to be a machine-one that answers questions when they are asked. Neighborhood children pay small fees or give canned food to have the "thinking machine" respond. Of course, it is Roy or one of his friends who are hidden in the marvel, and the payments help stretch the family's scant budget. Throughout, much is made of neighbors who are unemployed and about tramps who "live" in an empty lot and who appear at doors asking for sustenance. Though Roy's mother shares what they have, his own hatred of the tramps is extreme and the reasons for it subtle enough to be missed by a less-thoughtful reader. When their father returns home after having found work, it becomes more obvious that Roy has been afraid that his father was also a bum as he reacts to his father's stories. The relationship between the brothers is poignant, as is the family's struggle, but this is a fairly slight offering. Roy's invention is intriguing and may appeal to readers even as they begin to learn about those sad times of many decades ago. (Fiction. 10-13)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.76(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.63(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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