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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Born and Bred in the Great Depression, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2011. $19.99 ages 6 and up

"With no money
for new shoes,
your feet got tough as leather
walking barefoot down the
gravel roads,

walking on the hot rails
day after day - that's what
you've said."

Jonah Winter is talking to his dad in his new book...a man who lived through the deprivation of the Depression. It is in evidence from the beginning:

"You got your water from a well
because there was no indoor plumbing.
There were no toilets,
so you had to use the outhouse.

I know, because you've told me, Dad.
This was the world you grew up in."

Moving from one page to the next, we are witness to the life led by this family of ten...eight kids, two parents in four rooms. The author's father, the youngest, has little space in a bed that sleeps six. There is no money for electricity, no indoor plumbing, and little opportunity to work for those who do want a job. Despite these many hardships, there are blessings, too.

There may be no money for shoes, but the family never goes hungry. They grow their own food, and preserve what cannot be eaten immediately. Chickens and a milk cow provide needed sustenance. The family manages as best it can, and their experiences during that trying time provides the grist for stories that the Winter siblings will later tell their own children. Jonah shares what he has been told, with awe and a sense of disbelief:

"Sometimes it's hard to believe
this world was even real.
Maybe I've remembered it wrong.

Did Grandpa Winter really know a hermit
who lived in the woods
and ate beans from a jar?

Did Granny Winter really have to fire up the
wood-burning stove
every day, even in the summer,
to heat up water
to wash clothes on a washboard?"

There is great admiration for his father and his life during the well, there is love and understanding, honor and pride. It is a heartfelt homage to a time in our history:

"When I think of the Great Depression,
I picture a whole country
of people tough as Grandpa and Granny Winter,
not giving up, even when

it seemed like there was nothing left to lose -"

and of his father, a hopeful, daydreaming youngster at the time:

"And I see you, Dad,
in your little overalls,
listening to the trains,
walking through the woods,

learning to love those things
that didn't cost a single penny."

Kimberly Bulcken Root fills the pages with illustrations that add understanding and relevance to the author's telling. Her dusty, subdued palette hearkens back to a piece of history that has not been forgotten by those who lived through it. The simple pleasures of life are shown, and the joy to be had from a loving and supportive family. This will be a most welcome addition to my growing stack of picture book biographies. Thanks for that!

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