Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter

Lynn: As a child, I was fascinated by my parents’ stories about growing up during the Depression.  Neither of them, like the children in this story, ever went hungry but the scarcities and tough times shaped them for their entire lives.  My mother, at 91, still cannot bear to let anything go to waste and she has given me enough washed margarine containers to start a warehouse.  Born and Bred in the Great Depression (Random/Schwartz &Wade 2012) brings those stories to young readers.   An unseen narrator addresses his father, retelling his father’s childhood experiences.

You got your water from a well

because there was no indoor plumbing.

There were no toilets,

so you had to use an outhouse.

I know because you’ve told me, Dad.

This was the world you grew up in.

Ten people in one small house, a father who looked for work every day, paid 10 cents an hour when he could find it.  A hard working mother, tending a farm and garden, cooking, preserving, caring for 8 children with no electricity.  The sense of these strong courageous people radiates from both Winter’s spare prose and Kimberly Bulcken Root’s beautiful ink and watercolor illustrations that carry a sense of the government-sponsored art of the time.  There is a wonderful intimacy to the story provided by family details.  The mother who wasn’t afraid of handling cantankerous bulls was terrified of the prairie storms.  The father who worked so hard each day rewarded himself by reading a library book each night.  And the family learned to “love those things that didn’t cost a single penny” in this life and to carry the “hopes of waking to the blue skies of better days.”

For kids today, the Great Depression may be in the distant past but those stories and experiences couldn’t be more timely.  Economists say we have been in a recession but kids understand lost jobs, doing without and wondering if those better days will come soon.  History is just the stories of the people who have come before us and this book provides a powerful connection for children today to children not that long ago.

What a terrific book for giving kids practice in “compare and contrast.”  What is the same today as it was in the Depression?  What is different?  Which time do you think was better for kids to grow up in?  Read this aloud to classes and let the discussion fly.

Cindy: My mother was born at the tail end of the Great Depression but she lived through the rationing of WWII and it shaped her as well. We rinsed out bread wrappers and clothes-pinned them to the kitchen drapery rod to drain dry and used them instead of buying commercial storage bags. And she cut the backs off the envelopes from bills to use as scratch paper. The rationing and tight times did deeply affect that generation and we could learn from some of their habits both out of economic and an environmental concerns. But, my admiration for this book comes from the family storytelling aspect. I’m a sucker of any book that captures or encourages family sharing of personal stories. The endpapers have black and white photographs from Winter’s family albums. They look familiar…they could be from my grandparents’ albums. Take a peek. Read the book. Then tell your own story.

Head to Emu’s Debuts for this week’s Nonfiction Monday blog roundup.

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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.

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