Tales of Growing Up in Hard Times

What was it like to be an American kid in the 1930’s?
Most people were poor, even those who had been well off just a few years before. There was a drought in the Midwest. In northern Texas and Oklahoma there dust storms that blotted out the sky. Here are three tales of kids growing up during these hard times.
Bud Not Buddy       Bud, Not Buddy / Christopher Paul Curtis
Four years ago when he was six Bud (Don’t call him Buddy) Caldwell’s mother died. Since then he’s been shuffled back and forth between an orphanage in Flint, Michigan and a series of foster homes. When his last foster mother accused him of being a bed wetter, and her son shoved a pencil up Bud’s nose as far as the R in TICONDEROGA, Bud decided to strike out on his own. He’d rather be in a hobo camp than in another foster home.

His mother left him a battered suitcase, a few clothes, a picture of herself sitting unhappily on a “saggy pony at the Miss B. Gotten Moon Park,” and five mysterious stones with some kind of code written on them. “One of them said ‘kentland ill. 5.10.11.’ Another said ‘loogootee in. 5.16.11,’ then there was ‘sturgis m. 8.30.12’ and ‘gary in. 6.13.12,’ and the last one said, ‘flint m. 8.11.11.’” He also inherited five crumpled flyers advertising “HERMAN E. CALLOWAY and the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!” Although some of them announce appearances by “Herman E. Calloway and the Terminally Unhappy Blues Band,” or “Herman E. Calloway and the Gifted Gents of Gospel—Featuring Miss Grace ‘Blessed’ Thomas’s Vocals,” or even “H. E. Callowski and the Wonderful Warblers of Warsaw,” or, “H.E. Bonnegut and the Boisterous Big Band of Berlin,” Bud thinks that if he can track down Herman E. Calloway and his band, he’ll find his father.

Love from your friend Hannah       Love From Your Friend, Hannah: A Novel / by Mindy Warshaw Skolsky; with illustrations by Hannah herself
In 1937 Hannah Diamond writes a letter to a pen pal whose name she pulled out of a box on her teacher’s desk. She sends a chatty letter introducing herself to Edward Winchley in Wichita, Kansas. She tells him about her favorite books, how she writes letters to her grandparents at their candy store in the Bronx and to her friend Angie who moved away. How she lives at the Grand View Restaurant in Grand View, New York between a river and a mountain, goes to school in Nyack, and has a dog named Skippy, how she helps out in the restaurant her parents hobbies. She concludes by writing “When I picked that piece of paper out of the pen pal box on my teacher’s desk, I really wanted a girl, but my teacher, Miss Hopkins, says you have to take what you get. I got you. I would like a pen pal from Kansas, even though you’re a boy, because in my second favorite book, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy lives in Kansas. My first favorite book is Heidi. What are your favorite books?”

Edward replies in a very short letter:

“Dear Hannah,
                 I haven’t got a mountain.
                 I have a cow.
                         Edward Winchley
P.S. I don’t like to read books. I don’t like to write letters either. My teacher made me put my name on that piece of paper.”

Undeterred, Hannah continues to write letters to Edward (his letters get more informative), Angie (who never does write back) all her relatives, and to President Roosevelt (who to Hannah’s great surprise does write back).

Turtle in paradise       Turtle in Paradise / Jennifer L. Holm
Turtle got her nickname from her mother because she doesn’t cry or get upset about by bad news, and in 1935 the world is full of bad news. Turtle’s mother has a new job in New Jersey as a housekeeper, but her employer won’t let her daughter live in with her. She thinks children are noisy and she can’t abide noise. So Turtle and her cat Smokey have been sent to live with her aunt and uncle and her three cousins, Beans, Kermit, and Buddy in Key West, Florida. All three cousins are boys and they own a dog named Termite, a cross between a German Shepherd and dachshund. It’s not love at first sight. The boys don’t want to make room for a girl and Termite doesn’t want to make room for a cat.

Beans, who, like Turtle, is eleven, is the boss of The Diaper Gang. It’s a babysitting service for infants. Beans tells Turtle it’s strictly, “No girls allowed.” This doesn’t bother Turtle. She has no desire to change diapers. The Diaper Gang is a thriving business because they not only change diapers, but they work for candy, not money. And they have an important trade secret: a never-fail cure for diaper rash. Tagging along with the Diaper Gang and their wagon full of tightly swaddled and dry charges, gives Turtle a chance to meet the neighbors. Everyone in Key West is known by a nickname: Slow Poke, Too Bad, Killie, Papa, Nana Philly, Pork Chop. Hardly anyone goes by their real name, but they all seem to know all about Turtle the day after she arrives. It’s a lot different from New Jersey.

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