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The Truth About Sparrows
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The Truth About Sparrows

5.0 3
by Marian Hale

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"The Wynns are an unforgettable family. The details of their struggle to survive the Great Depression will linger long after the last page has been read."-Ann M. Martin, winner of the Newbery Honor for A Corner of the Universe

A stunning debut novel about
the true meaning of home

Sadie Wynn doesn't want a new life; her old one suits her


"The Wynns are an unforgettable family. The details of their struggle to survive the Great Depression will linger long after the last page has been read."-Ann M. Martin, winner of the Newbery Honor for A Corner of the Universe

A stunning debut novel about
the true meaning of home

Sadie Wynn doesn't want a new life; her old one suits her just fine. But times are hard in drought-plagued Missouri, and Daddy thinks they'll be better off in Texas. Sadie hates this strange new place, where even children must work at the cannery to help make ends meet and people are rude to her disabled father.

Yet when trouble comes, it is the kindness of these new neighbors that helps the family make it through. And no one helps more than Dollie, a red-headed chatterbox of a girl who just might become a good friend-if Sadie gives her half a chance.

The Truth About Sparrows is a 2005 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[A] deeply affecting story . . . Hale's evocative, sure prose . . . brings alive the setting and the family's survival challenges with cinematic detail that's reminiscent of the Little House books.” —Booklist, starred review

“What could have been just another surviving-the-Depression story is, instead a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn. An important addition to the genre from a new voice.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Hale has created a character with a strong, lyrical voice. She describes the coastal area so vividly that Sparrows is a breath of fresh air even when it brings tears to your eyes.” —USA Today

“[T]riumphant and memorable, as is her entire family--who not only endure the Depression but emerge stronger from it.” —The Horn Book

Publishers Weekly
Twelve-year-old Sadie Wynn narrates this first novel, a sentimental, Depression-era tale about the meaning of home. After the Wynns lose their house to the bank in drought-stricken Missouri, they move to a tar-paper shack near the Gulf Coast of Texas. Worse still, Sadie's pal, Wilma, moves in the opposite direction, to California, but not before the two promise to be best friends forever. That vow prompts Sadie to reject the hand offered by new neighbor Dollie, and the heroine's incessant pining for Wilma, whom readers never get to know, feels a bit akin to viewing photos of someone else's vacation. Sadie's three siblings also remain sketchily drawn, but the narrative devotes ample attention to her parents, both of whom are heroically portrayed. Despite "infantile paralysis" that left Sadie's father crippled, the man makes do ("if there were no way around a muddy place in the road, he'd just lean forward on his palms,... and walk on his hands"). He builds a boat from scrap in just a few days, and saintly Mama sews a sail from rags in even less time. The title alludes to a homeless man Sadie encounters fleetingly, but whose impoverishment helps her recognize her own blessings, and the ending is a three-hankie affair that ties things up neatly. Abundant with period details, this story may be best suited to dedicated fans of historical fiction. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
On Sadie Wynn's twelfth birthday in 1933, she and her family leave Missouri. Forced out by drought and economic bad times, the family takes food and clothing and drives south to find work. Sadie regrets leaving her friend, her home, and familiar surroundings. After two wearying weeks of camping out, they stop to pick cotton, meet the Gillem family, join forces, and settle at the seawall by the harbor in Aransas Pass, Texas. They buy a dirt-floored, tarpaper shack and use their meager savings to build a fishing boat. Life is a continual struggle, and the children endure prejudice at school. After the premature birth of Grace, the baby's struggle for life helps Sadie realize that she must let go of the past. As the story ends, Sadie has become a dutiful daughter, found a new friend, forgiven the school girl who tormented her, and is forming a romantic relationship. The realistic characters and geographical setting are skillfully portrayed in an engaging narrative that is faithful to an adolescent girl's point of view. Accurate details about flour-sack dresses, cleaning and canning ducks, cleaning shrimp at a cannery, and a homeless man living in a cardboard box will help young readers understand the story's historical background. The father's inability to use his legs because of infantile paralysis is presented matter-of-factly as a minor aspect of his life. The Christian values of the parents and Sadie's struggles are realistic without didacticism. This book will be useful for leisure reading or as a supplemental history reading. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, definedas grades 7 to 9). 2004, Henry Holt, 260p., Ages 11 to 15.
—Sherry York
Children's Literature
Sadie, the twelve-year-old main character of this Depression-era novel, thinks she has life pretty under control until her father announces that they are leaving their Missouri home to create a new life in Texas. The new surroundings make Sadie appreciate those things she previously took for granted. For instance, in Missouri, no one treated Sadie's disabled father "differently," but in Texas they are rude and condescending. At her new school in Texas, Sadie finds herself the butt of jokes and general meanness from the girls who live in the type of house and with the type of family Sadie had in Missouri. But with the support of her parents and other children who have also become migrants due to the great Depression, Sadie begins to redefine herself. She takes it upon herself to work at a shrimp plant in the morning before school, handles herself at school with grace and patience, and becomes a friend to an old man who has none. Most importantly, she learns what it means to be a friend and support to others. This is a lovely book, perfect for middle school girls who have previously read Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust or experienced a bit of the Depression through Kit and the "American Girl" series. 2004, Henry Holt and Company, Ages 11 to 16.
—Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to adult.

When Sadie and her family left their home in Missouri in July of 1933, she had just turned 12 and felt that her life had ended. She left behind her home, her best friend Wilma, and the stability engendered by having a family that was known and accepted in her community. Her father, disabled by polio, walks by using his hands to drag along his useless legs; he is strong and smart, but not easily accepted by others. With little food, but a lot of gumption, the family makes its way to Texas. Sadie and her brothers work peeling shrimp and fishing on the little boat her father builds over their first summer. School brings its own horrors when Sadie has to wear dresses made of flour sacks, smelling of shrimp she has gotten up at 4 am to peel before school. Nonetheless, Sadie’s resilience and that of her family get them through the premature delivery of her baby sister, a hurricane and the roiling emotions of a 12-year-old who has lost everything and found more. This is a wonderful coming-of-age tale and story of the Dust Bowl and the Depression, and it will be enjoyed by all age groups, especially by girls. Reviewer: Nola Theiss
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Sadie's father is a terrific mechanic and a creative carpenter who can do just about anything except make a living in Dust Bowl Missouri. Resentful about leaving her home, her friend Wilma, and the beautiful table he made that eventually was to have been hers, the 12-year-old is further angered when strangers stare at her dad's polio-withered legs. Relocating to coastal Texas where the fishing industry offers opportunity, the family obtains a one-room tar-paper shack. Promised letters from Wilma fail to arrive, a homeless man living in a cardboard box disappears, and a snobbish town girl constantly humiliates Sadie, causing her to snap when the overly talkative Dollie, with whom she has a budding friendship, tries to console her. The loss of this relationship and a crisis involving the newborn sister Sadie helps deliver cause her to reevaluate what is important. Notwithstanding the myriad challenges to survival, this story has a positive tone. Sadie's father may be down, but he is far from out. Her mom may be keeping house in a tent, but she does so efficiently while cheerfully reminding Sadie that "who you are inside always shows." Best of all, there are true friends willing to be supportive, if only the protagonist would see through her unhappiness. While Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Cat Running (Delacorte, 1994) views the Great Depression through the eyes of the merchant class, Hale highlights the working poor. Rich with social history, this first novel is informative, enjoyable, and evocative.-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"These are hard times, Babygirl," Daddy says and, sure enough, 1933 is a rough year for Sadie Wynn. Her family has lost their house in drought-plagued Missouri, and Sadie's best friend in the world has moved to California. The Wynns move to Texas, near the Aransas Pass Seawall. It's a coming-down in the world, but survival is at stake. They make a home of a tar-paper shack, Daddy fishes, and Sadie goes off to clean shrimp at the cannery. It's a hard life, but Sadie is up to the challenge. She works hard, helps deliver a baby, finds a new friend, and shows empathy for a man she calls Mr. Sparrow, who lives in a cardboard box near the seawall. What could have been just another surviving-the-Depression story is, instead, a beautifully realized work, memorable for its Gulf Coast setting and the luminous voice of Sadie Wynn. An important addition to the genre from a new voice. (Fiction. 10+)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.78(d)
820L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


Daddy drove down a dirt road between the rows of cotton and stopped in a clearing near the wagons. He talked to the boss while we waited in the car with Mama. The man had a fierce look of doubt on his face, but he soon shrugged and pointed to some buildings at the far edge of the fields. They looked like apple crates hunkered under the hot sun.

The man handed a folded stack of bags to Daddy and stood back to watch. Daddy looped the straps of each bag over his shoulder, pulled them behind him to the car, and pitched them in to Mama. Then he hauled himself onto the front seat. The man's eyebrows lifted. He shook his head and turned back to his work.

"We'll start after the noon meal," Daddy said. He pointed to the apple crate buildings. "We're to stay out there."

Mama nodded.

We headed down the dirt road, but the closer we got to those little houses, the harder Mama's face looked. A dozen one-room cabins sat spittin' close. The board siding gaped, leaving little chance of privacy, and the only cabin empty leaned on its blocks like it was tuckered out. She stepped in, glanced around at the mounds of blown-in dirt and weeds, and stepped out. "We'll stay in the tent," she said.

Mama picked a place off to one side near a scrub oak, and we hurried to set up camp. Out in the fields, workers dropped their cotton bags. Some pulled towel-wrapped meals from their overalls and ate where they were, leaning against half-filled sacks. Others walked back to the cabins. By the time they trickled in, Daddy had fired up the coal oil stove and Mama had pancake batter sizzling in a hot skillet. We wouldn't have time for pan bread today. She flipped the cakes out, sprinkled them with a bit of sugar, and rolled them up. The sugared pancakes tasted good, but they did little to sweeten my sour thoughts.

I ate under the tree and watched men gather in the sliver of shade cast by the cabins. They sat in the dirt and leaned against the warped siding while women and kids disappeared through open doorways to fetch their meals. Seems all of them stole curious glances at us. I wondered if my growing vexation showed on my face, but I should've known it was Daddy they were looking at. A few men nodded our way, and Daddy nodded back.

When we finished eating, Mama wrapped each one of our fingers with narrow strips of rags so the prickly cotton bolls wouldn't tear up our hands. Except for Bobby. He got a spoon and a wooden bowl for digging in the dirt. Mama handed Jacob his hat and told us girls to put on our bonnets. "Stay close to Daddy," she said. "He'll show us how it's done."

Jacob and Emily followed Daddy into the field with their long bags, but I dug my toes into the hot dirt and waited for Mama. She tied her bonnet with bandaged fingers and pulled Bobby toward the field. I should've kept my mouth shut, but I knew I'd bust like an overripe melon if I didn't say something. I fell into step, drew a deep breath, and spit it out. "Did Daddy lie to us, Mama?"

She stopped and frowned hard at me. The look made my gut tighten up, but I was determined. I jerked my slipping bag back over my shoulder. "He promised we'd live on the coast and fish, Mama, and here we are in a cotton field."

She shook her head and gave me a look that made me feel small and mean. "Your Daddy's a smart man, Sadie. He's here for more than just pay."

Mama pulled Bobby into the field and left me standing in the dirt. I hadn't thought it was possible to feel worse, but I did.

I don't remember much about those five days except for the hot, achy work and wondering what Daddy was here for if it wasn't the money. At dusk, everyone came in from the fields too tired for socializing, so I knew Daddy wasn't here for that. But like Mama said, I could tell he wanted more. Every evening he sat outside the tent like he was waiting for something. It wasn't till the last night that I understood what it was.

While me and Mama washed up supper dishes, a few workers drifted our way. Daddy shook their hands and introduced himself. "My name's John Wynn," he said. He nodded at Mama. "And my wife here is Raine."

Mama smiled her hello. Her name was really Lorraine, but Daddy liked Raine better. One day I asked him why and he said there was nothing in this world sweeter than rain, and Mama wasn't much different.

The men talked with Daddy a while, then more came with wives and kids. Mama made coffee, and me and Emily played hopscotch by lamplight with a green-eyed girl named Dollie Mae Gillem. She was thin and wiry with freckles and short curly red hair, the only girl in a family of six boys, and nothing at all like Wilma. Her steady stream of chatter left me wondering if she'd pass out from lack of air.

She told me about all she had to put up with, being the only girl in the family, and pointed out three of her brothers huddled around a game of marbles. "There's Davis-he's thirteen and the oldest-and that's Oren and Wyatt next to him," she said.

I saw Jacob smack in the middle of them, hunched over a circle drawn in the sand.

"Mama's holding baby Caleb," she said, "and over there, that's Ethan and Tanner." She pointed out the last two Gillems playing tag with Bobby and a few others. They chased around the tent, hollering and laughing so hard their mamas had to put their cups aside to settle them down.

Daddy sat on the ground, his crippled legs folded sideways, out of the way. He talked to those men like he wasn't any different at all. And soon they talked back like they didn't see his crippled legs anymore. Always quick, he caught me looking and smiled. Daddy had a handsome smile, and I felt it swell inside me like a clean breath.

For a while, the grown-up talk took on a festive mood. Seems we were all glad to be done with the cotton and looked forward to collecting our pay first thing in the morning. I hoped Daddy would bring out his fiddle, but he must've had more important things on his mind. I caught snatches of talk about the Depression, about looking for work and the worry of feeding hungry kids. A woman, her dress hanging slack over her whisper-thin body, cheeks shining wet, listened at lamp's edge. She clutched a rag doll to her chest like a baby, and I had to wonder at the kind of misfortune that put such a sorrowful look on her face. Even with all we gave up, I guessed we might've been luckier than some.

Before long, Emily tired of playing hopscotch and wandered off. Dollie balanced on one foot, watching her go, then threw down her rock. She grabbed a spare cotton bag and pulled me away from the light.

"Finally," she said. "Now we can be alone. Would you like to sit down and talk? You have a real sweet sister, Sadie, and Lord knows I'd love to have one just like her instead of all those brothers, but I've been dying to get you all to myself. She's only five, after all, and it's hard to speak your mind with a little one around."

Dollie spread the bag, sat on one end, and looked up at me. "Come on," she said. "Don't you want to get to know each other?" Not waiting for an answer, she patted the space beside her and kept talking while I sat down.

"I've never seen anyone with hair dark as yours paired up with blue eyes and white skin," she said. "Papa would say you're a beauty, that's for sure." She smoothed her wild curls with her hand, but they popped right back up. "I'd trade you if I could, but I guess I'm gonna be stuck with this red mop the rest of my days."

I fingered one of my thick pigtails and stared at her. I couldn't remember anyone describing me as a beauty before. I felt my cheeks color up, but Dollie didn't notice. She kept on talking, telling me about how she'd come from Ohio two years ago, and how out of all the places they'd tried to settle along the way, she liked South Texas best. She talked about what it was like living by the bay, and how much she missed having a friend her age in the neighborhood. Clumps of red hair bobbed as she spoke, and though she asked dozens of questions, she never waited for answers. She prattled on and on about the things we could do together if only I lived close by.

I didn't say much. Even if I'd wanted to squeeze in a word or two, it seemed a waste of time, seeing as how our families would scatter different directions in the morning. Besides, I already had a best friend, and I had no intention of breaking my promise to Wilma.

While Dollie rambled on, I wondered what Wilma would think. I smiled, already hearing that hiccuping guffaw of hers. She'd laugh for sure-but more at me than at Dollie, for letting myself get cornered and corralled.

I couldn't do much about Dollie's endless chatter, any more than I could've stopped Daddy from moving. But after a while, I figured I could do something about my listening.

I stood up right in the middle of a story about a girl named Lou Ann Waller, who wanted to get away from the smell of fish and shrimp so bad she threatened to run off with her boyfriend. "I'd better get back," I said. "Mama doesn't know where I am."

Dollie looked up, surprised, but it didn't seem to bother her none. She gathered up the cotton bag and followed me to the tent.

When we got back, everyone was shaking Daddy's hand and wishing us well. All but the Gillems. They stayed a bit longer.

Once they were finally gone, Mama shooed us off to bed while she and Daddy sat in the starlight, talking. We didn't complain. I was bone-tired by then and knew the other kids were, too. Bobby fell asleep right away, and it wasn't long before Jacob and Emily's breathing turned slow and steady, too. But tired as I was, I couldn't sleep. I lay there, instead, watching the red glow from Daddy's cigarette and listening to his hushed voice tell Mama all the things he'd learned from those men.

"In Aransas Pass, there's a big dirt seawall by the harbor," he said. "Built to keep storm tides from washing the town away. We can camp there free."

"The owners won't care, John?" Mama asked.

"There don't seem to be any owners. People all over the country bought those lots in a big land auction in 1909 and never showed up to claim them."

I waited for Mama's voice. Daddy must've been waiting, too, 'cause I didn't hear a word for a while. When Daddy spoke again, it was in a whisper. "The harbor's close there, Raine, and the fishing's good."

I knew neither of them liked living on someone else's land. But I knew, too, Daddy was thinking about how hard it'd be to get to and from his boat every day.

Still, Mama was quiet.

"Dan Gillem said he and Irene are going back there tomorrow, and we could go with them."

I sucked in a surprised breath and was thankful when the sound disappeared under Mama's sigh and the rasp of Daddy's rough hand rubbing her shoulders.

"Might be a good place to settle," Daddy said.

I rolled over, finally understanding what it was he'd hoped to find in these cotton fields. I'd found something, too, whether I wanted it or not. I was getting my new life, just like Mama said, but it was coming ready-made with a chattering, redheaded girl who wanted to be my friend. A girl who didn't know I had a promise to keep.

Copyright © 2004 Marian Hale
This text is from an uncorrected proof.

Meet the Author

Marian Hale is the author of acclaimed historical novels for young adults including Dark Water Rising and The Goodbye Season. She lives with her husband, daughter, and grandbabies on the Texas Coast.

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The Truth About Sparrows 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book actually has so many feelings in it. Once you open this boo kand start reading it you will be stuck in it and not want to stop. This book is touching. A girl having to move away. But the moral behind is what's good. Read it and you'll see what I mean.