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When the Whistle Blows

When the Whistle Blows

4.6 9
by Fran Cannon Slayton

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Jimmy Cannon loves trains. And he wants to work on the railroad more than anything when he grows up. After all, his father is the foreman in Rowlesburg, and all the men in his family have worked on the rails. But times are changing in the 1940s, and Jimmy's father sees a different future for his son. Join Jimmy on the ride of a lifetime, through midnight Halloween


Jimmy Cannon loves trains. And he wants to work on the railroad more than anything when he grows up. After all, his father is the foreman in Rowlesburg, and all the men in his family have worked on the rails. But times are changing in the 1940s, and Jimmy's father sees a different future for his son. Join Jimmy on the ride of a lifetime, through midnight Halloween romps, the championship football game, and a secret society in this coming-of-age story set during the last of the railroad days.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
-An unassuming masterpiece.+ -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Mary Quattlebaum
Fran Cannon Slayton expertly blends suspense with emotional complexity in the seven interconnected stories of When the Whistle Blows…This first novel has many strengths—vivid period details, an engaging voice, finely tuned sentences—but its greatest is the ability to articulate the ways of fathers and sons, of love and loss, expectation and hurt, of words unsaid and those that pierce like a "single, steaming whistle."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Slayton's sweet and nostalgic debut novel tells the story of seven consecutive Halloweens, starting in 1943, in the life of teenage Jimmy Cannon. He wants nothing but to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brothers and work for the railroad, which runs through his hometown of Rowlesburg, W. Va. His dad, however, believes that the railroads are dying, and that Jimmy's future is elsewhere. As each year passes, readers get glimpses of Jimmy's small-town life: a late-night wake for a favorite uncle, a prank gone awry, a robbery with nearly disastrous consequences, etc. Slayton takes a few wrong turns, notably the chapters featuring the football championship and the boorish school principal who opposes hunting season, both of which have clichéd resolutions. Though the nature of the book-devoid of Jimmy's growth over the 364 days between each chapter-can feel disjointed, Jimmy, his father and the townsfolk have unique, compelling voices that nicely convey the sense of small-town America during and after World War II. Ages 10-up.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
[A] memorable novel . . .
Children's Literature - Peg Glisson
Halloween pranks that misfire, secret societies to honor the dead, rousing small-town football, dangerous railroad work, communities banding together—it is all here in Slayton's debut novel. This combination historical/coming-of-age tale is told in seven chapters, each beginning on All Hallow's Eve and advancing the story one year from 1943 through 1949. Coincidentally, Halloween is Jimmy's father's birthday. Their family has worked the railroad for generations, and Jimmy wants nothing more than to join his brothers on the rails when he is old enough. However, his father, the foreman, is adamant that Jimmy's wish will not happen; he sees that the steam engine is a dying relic. His pessimism causes tension between father and son, as do his strict, rule-following ways and his tendency to hold Jimmy at a slight distance. While the individual chapters wryly tell Jimmy's exploits, his father's constant presence in the background ultimately makes this a tender tale. Jimmy is too young to recognize his father's deteriorating health, and it is not until after his father's death that he is able to recognize the man's wisdom. Slayton captures both Mr. Cannon's concern about the impact of technology and Jimmy's gradual maturation. Each chapter is a short story in itself; together they make a beautifully-written book that will appeal to boy and girl readers. Reviewer: Peg Glisson
VOYA - Jenny Ingram
Each of the seven chapters in this book takes place in a small West Virginia railroad town on Halloween, starting in 1943 and ending in 1949. Narrator Jimmy Cannon is eleven during the opening vignette, in which he witnesses a secret wake for his uncle, conducted by the town's Irish brotherhood. The story comes full circle in the final vignette, when Jimmy is inducted into the brotherhood at a similar vigil for his father and learns the story of his immigrant ancestor who founded the society. The episodes in between, sometimes funny and sometimes tragic, form a vivid portrait of the town and its people, chronicling Jimmy's growth from boy to man and the slow death of the town as the railroad becomes more efficient and requires less manpower. Every chapter in this book is self-contained, but the slice-of-life structure and the returning characters are appealing and effective methods for connecting the stories into a novel. The unconventional framework requires the reader to use inference and imagination, something that will fascinate and engage younger teens who have likely encountered only straightforward narratives in their reading. A teacher using this book in a classroom setting would have no problem thinking up companion activities, and leisure readers will hope for more books from Slayton. Reviewer: Jenny Ingram
School Library Journal

Gr 6-10

Linked stories set on seven consecutive All Hallows' Eves, from 1943 through 1949, relate Jimmy Cannon's teenage years in Rowlesburg, WV. Central to his story are his two older brothers, his friends, and especially his father, a formidable figure in a long succession of Cannon men who have worked for the B&O railroad. Why then, does Dad insist that Jimmy must not follow in his own footsteps? And what is his father's role in the secretive and mysterious "Society" of local men? This is nostalgia done right, as Jimmy describes the high jinks, the championship football game, the risks and rewards of his part-time job, and other significant events that shape his love for his small hometown at a time and place when the railroad was the town. Telling details and gentle humor help set the scene and reveal a great deal about these characters and their lives. The nature, membership, and duties of "The Society" slowly come to the fore as events transpire that sharpen Jimmy's perceptions and provide him with the insights to consider the possibility of an unknown and very different future than the one he had always imagined. A polished paean to a bygone time and place.-Joel Shoemaker, South East Junior High School, Iowa City, IA

Kirkus Reviews
Set in a railroad town in West Virginia in the 1940s, these quaint and compelling short stories, which together function as a novel, tell the engrossing tale of young Jimmy Cannon, who is growing from boy to man at the very same time that the most important elements in his life-his father and the steam-engine trains he has loved since childhood-are chugging toward their last breaths. The stories, taking place on a series of seven All Hallow's Eves, follow Jimmy as he engages in childish pranks, plays in the championship football game, spies on the secret railroad society that his father and brothers belong to and finally is inducted into that society after his father's death. Ultimately, Jimmy learns to accept that the days of the steam engine are over, to better understand his emotionally distant father and to embrace his role as newest member of his father's society, which turns out to be centered not on the railroad after all, but on faith, brotherhood and love. An unassuming masterpiece. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.70(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
-An unassuming masterpiece.+ -Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Meet the Author

Fran Cannon Slayton lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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When the Whistle Blows 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Galleysmith More than 1 year ago
Reading more like a collection of short stories than a novel Slayton has created a touching and intimate look at the life of her main character Jimmy and his family. Transitioning from one year to the next using the central focus of one particular day (in this case Halloween) allows for each individual snapshot to flow together in a way that provides readers a great view of Jimmy's life and how he's lived it. The transitions are abrupt in the way that we are able to discern that a new year has come upon us but not so abrupt that the story doesn't work or that we're unable to follow along with the premise. Where Slayton does a remarkable job is in showcasing the strong bond between Jimmy and his family. She does so delicately and in muted tones as we see festive, emotional and sometimes tragic events throughout the eyes of this boy. Slayton subtly shows his growth from a curious and precocious youngster into a thoughtful man while allowing him to maintain core values of tradition and family. Informing the story is the appearance of the local railroad through which the reader is threaded through the passage of time. Ever present in scene, dialogue or just as a thought in the mind of the reader it was this element that made the story more about home than anything else. The vivid imagery of Rowlesburg (Jimmy's hometown) and it's railroad industry allows the reader to really feel the character's physical surroundings and relate to why it is that Jimmy has such a fondness for his hometown. In the end we learn that his life isn't just all about the people he encountered but the place where he grew up and cherished. It informed his relationships and his decisions in a way any living and breathing family member would yet didn't stand out as over the top or too dramatic a character. In my opinion this book would be a great quick read for a reluctant boy. Not only does it focus on a male protagonist the situations tend to show situations that a boy may relate well to - pranks, sports, and general mischief. Even better, is the fact that within those elements are interwoven the more tangibly emotional aspects of family dynamics, work ethic and sense of belonging. There are some soulful and meaningful lessons to be learned. This is not to say that the book is not appealing to girls as well as I enjoyed it a great deal. I just envision it's greatest strength (characterization and plot) appealing to boys who don't typically enjoy reading as much as playing sports or video games. Further, the fact that it is a quick read doesn't diminish it's impact on the reader. The story is in depth and emotional providing an entertaining and enjoyable journey from start to finish.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS follows Jimmy Cannon through four years of his life in the railroad town of Rowlesburg, West Virginia. Jimmy grows up before the reader's eyes as he struggles to come to terms with his changing world.

From Halloween pranks, to football games, to secret societies, Jimmy rushes through life like one of the steam trains he loves.

But the lessons he learns will stay in his mind and heart long after the train whistle is silent. And they will stay with the reader, too.

I specifically enjoyed how each chapter was a new year of Jimmy's life and always began on his father's birthday, which happens to be Halloween.

Jimmy started out as a boy and, by the end, was well on his way to being a man. The book took me full circle on a journey I will never forget.

Though steam trains are no longer a prevalent part of our society, I will still think of this book and remember Jimmy's journey whenever I hear a train whistle blow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Real good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my all time favorite books and i know where everything was/ is because its where I grew up as well all of the storys are so relistic any rail road or small town kid can relate and understand
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is absolutly one of the best books ive ever read in my entire life. I smiled, i laughed, i even cried. This is one amazing heart touching book that i think anyone would enjoy.
jb70 More than 1 year ago
This was a very enjoyable book about small town life in a the late 1930 through the 1940's. The story was told in Jimmy's voice and it was very easy to read and get into. Each year you get a snapshot of one day, All Hallows Eve, which also happens to be his father's birthday. Seeing Jimmy grow and change and watching the changes made to the town when the switch is made from steam engines to diesels shows a lot about the past and what happens to a town and to a community when their source for jobs and incomes changes. Jimmy felt real and authentic. I enjoyed watching him try to catch up to his two older brothers, dreaming about becoming a steam mechanic, and playing in a championship football season. The interconnectedness of the past and the future was very clear and was a great message. I think readers young and old will enjoy this book!
Betty68 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book immensely. Though it falls into a young age category (9-12) I believe it's also a good read for adults. It is well written and holds your interest to the very end.funny, along with a few tears, but very believable experiences. Keep a tissue handy. I liked the individual stories and the way they flowed to a good ending. Overall, it was a fun read for me. First book of this author? Unbelievable!