In 1932, Akron, Ohio was no better off than other parts of the country. Since Black Tuesday in '29, companies are closed, men all over the state are out of work, and families are running out of hope. Thirteen-year-old Rudy wants to help but doesn't know where to turn. His father, sullen and withdrawn, spends his time sulking on their front porch. His mother is desperate, not knowing how she will feed and care for her family. When Rudy learns of other boys leaving town and heading west to seek their fortunes, he hops a train figuring at least there will be one less mouth to feed at home. As Rudy lives the hobo life while he "rides the rails" to California, young readers are given a snapshot view and testament of Depression-era America.
Writer Dandi Daley Mackall met the real "Ramblin' Rudy" in 2000 and was inspired to capture his story and the spirit of adventure shown by many during the Great Depression. She conducts writing workshops across the United States and speaks at numerous conferences. Dandi lives in West Salem, Ohio. Rudy Rides the Rails is Chris Ellison's second book with Sleeping Bear Press. He also illustrated Let Them Play, which was named to the 2006 Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People list. Chris is presently working on another Tales of Young Americans story about the Oklahoma Land Run. He lives in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Gr 3-6 Set in 1932, this picture book tells of a teenager who leaves his home in Akron, OH, and takes to the rails to find work and hopefully a better life in California. Despite his father's advice, "look out for you and yours, and nobody else," Rudy learns that people who are down and out have to lean on others sometimes. As he travels west, stopping to take odd jobs, he meets other travelers who help him endure life on the road. They show him the signs left behind by other hoboes, warning of danger and indicating those homes where food would be offered. With their assistance, Rudy, like many other displaced persons, survives, eventually returning home to carve the "kindness here" symbol on his own front porch. Realistic, painterly illustrations depict the teen's cross-country journey, showing the many different trains he rides through the changing North American landscape. Beginning with the despair on the faces of the men waiting in line for work, the paintings clearly convey the characters' emotions. The symbols appear throughout and are defined on an appended page, along with a "Hobo Glossary." The writing is clear and vivid, and an author's note provides context for the story. A wonderful addition to the study of the Great Depression. - Anne L. Tormohlen, Deerfield Elementary School, Lawrence, KS
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