Little Audrey by Ruth White

Cindy: I’ve been a fan of Ruth White’s work since first reading Weeping Willow and the Newbery Honor book Belle Prater’s Boy. I knew there were autobiographical details in her novels, but with Little Audrey (Farrar, 2008) we learn more about a tough period in White’s childhood. The book starts off with a remarkable photograph of the five White sisters and their resilient mother. Living in an Appalachian coal mining camp in the late 1940s, the family is grieving the death of baby Gail and struggling with the complications that come with living with an alcoholic (White’s father). The story is told from the perspective of Ruth’s oldest sister, Audrey, and readers will be mesmerized by the powerful storytelling. The hunger is palpable but so is the love in this family and the hope that better days are ahead by novel’s end. I can’t wait to booktalk this with my middle school students. I somehow missed reading Sweet Creek Holler that White says continues the family’s story over the next six years, so that is going on my to-read list. Selected as Booklist’s 2008 Top of the List for Youth Fiction, readers who want to know more about Ruth White can read Ilene Cooper’s Booklist Interview or Pat Scales’ 2005 Book Links Author Focus that discusses many of White’ novels.

Lynn: Eleven-year-old Audrey is an observer who sees the beauty of the Appalachian hills, the squalor of the coal camp and into the hearts of the people around her. Through her eyes we see her Daddy, an alcoholic, who spends his meager pay on drink while his family goes hungry. We also see him trudging home from the mine, blackened with coal dust, exhausted and miserable. We see Audrey’s mother who “goes into her own secret world in her head,” still mourning a dead baby and stepping over her passed-out husband on the stairs. We also see her reading by lamplight and saving pennies to take her girls to the movies. Audrey tells us what she sees and we see it too in this quiet portrait that is at once heart-breaking and triumphant. My only quibble with this masterful book is the cover. As an adult, I am drawn to it but I think it is going to be a put-off for the kids. This is a book that is going to need some selling but coax a student or two into reading it and the book will soon be flying out the door. Ruth White writes about the world of her childhood but our students will understand that what was in Audrey’s heart is still important today.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

7 Comments on "Little Audrey by Ruth White"

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  1. I can’t wait to read this! I love Appalachian stories and am a big fan of her work…

  2. sierrafoster@charter.net' Sierra says:

    hey… I’m from Missouri and IM 12 years old- i love this book and Im on page 99 and It’s one of my favorite books! Good job on the story!

  3. Sierra, thanks for writing. Let us know what you think when you finish the book.–Cindy

  4. stacynicoleaustin@gmail.com' Stacy Austin says:

    omg!!! i love this book 🙂 it was sooo good on details and it made me feel like i was there as Audrey!!!

  5. klloyd76@gmail.com' Katrina Lloyd says:

    I would love to know the names of the people in the photo included to the right of the article. THANKS!
    Katrina Compton Lloyd

  6. Katrina, I don’t have the book at home and am leaving for ALA, but I will see what I can do to get my hands on it when I get back and add the family names to the photo.–Cindy

  7. gesseniarce9@ymail.com' Gessie Arce says:

    I read the book and its really good, I can relate to it too.

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