by E. Renee Heiss
illustrated by Chelsea Sekanic
Back Cover: In 1929, twelve year-old Woody thinks little about money. Then the stock market crashes, crumbling his father’s business with it. Suddenly, money becomes very important to Woody, so he searches for ways to help his family. Sometimes his efforts earn him a few coins. At other times, his efforts remove letters from an imaginary chocolate “RESPECT” bar, that his father uses to keep track of Woody’s mistakes.
In the end, Woody learns about hard work, true friendship, and earning respect. But, will his efforts ever be enough to earn the respect of his father?
First Sentence: “We can’t make it,” I screamed. “Stop!
Twelve-year-old Woodrow Michael Bartram lived with his mother, sister, and overly harsh father. His best friend is Henry, who lives a privileged life thanks to his banker father. Together, the two boys tend to get into trouble. They sped over the tracks on a snow sled, narrowly missing a trolley. While assembly a model airplane, mounting it to the ceiling, the boys ignored the directions . . . the plane pulled out of the ceiling, leaving a whole. In all the mischief, Henry made the poor decisions, Woody followed along.
Woody’s dad has little to no patience for Woody’s behavior. Most of his lectures end with two things: Dad’s belt against Woody’s behind and the loss of another letter from the Hershey bar of respect. Dad liked to say,
“Respect is like a Hershey bar, boy. Every time you make someone lose respect for you, part of the candy bar gets eaten away. Better watch yourself, boy.”
Elmer was from the poor side of town. He was a “colored” boy living with five siblings, his mother, and a father who worked out-of-town for the railroad company. Elmer’s staple food was beans, causing him to have gas more than most, and because of this gas, he had an odor he could not escape. Woody and Henry, and their sometime tag-a-log friend Elmer, lived a typical summer for a boys in 1929.
Then it happened. Woody’s dad received a note from the bank—owned by Henry’s dad—calling in his loans. Dad owned a construction company, building homes. Having his personal loans for poor credit called in meant the loss of warehoused supplies and his company. He was furious. In the midst of this furry, he forbad Woody from being friends with Henry. Without a job, Woody’s dad took one with the same railroad company Elmer’s father worked for. He would now be home only one weekend every month.
Woody stepped up, finding ways to make legitimate money. He gathered soda bottles, going so far as to pull out the deep laying bottles in garbage cans; bottles that were homes for maggots. With a cleaning system at hand, Woody cashed in ten to twenty cents a day. He resold magazines, collected coal from the train tracks, guarded food bins at a corner market, and carried lemon water to the men at a constructions site. He became very resourceful. Woody also became more thoughtful, more respectful, and happier with dad not home.
I think this story is a good character study of a middle-class boy during the Great Depression. He was never a bad boy; he only made bad decisions when around Henry. Henry’s life never changed. He still traveled with his family, had money in his pocket, food on his table. He was a rich kid. Elmer’s life did not change much either. His father continued to work for the railroad, traveling to wherever track was being laid. He was a poor kid and remained poor. Woody’s life changed dramatically.
Woody’s father lost everything but the house. The electric bill was too big so they had the electric shut off. They garaged the refrigerator to make room for an icebox. Candles replaced the lights; no radio meant no evening entertainment. Woody was the middle-class kid who became the very poor kid. The world turned lives upside down.
Woody’s World has illustrations at the top of each chapter’s first page. These are black and white sketches drawn from historical research and photographs from models hired to get the correct feel for the era. While the finished product looks mottled in places, they were perfect for the story.
Woody is a well-defined character, easy to care about and easy to see the change in him by story’s end. Whatever opportunity arose, Woody took the challenges head on. The father-son relationship seems to get worse, but by the end, it too improved. There are no magical answers, only a true look at life in 1929 and 1930 America.
Woody’s World is not a happy story, yet it is not a sad story. Woody is resilient. Children, mainly middle graders, will like the story once they start reading. The author never mentions the Great Depression, only that the stock exchange collapsed. Woody’s World is a good picture of the determination and creativity of the time, making it a great book for social studies and history classes.
Many kids today have not lived through much deprivation, nor do many understand how quickly or how far down things can change. The Internet has helped us all to realize how small the world really is, yet our neighborhoods seem farther apart than ever. Woody’s World demonstrates how closely related and needed we are of one another.
The story is also about friendship. Woody and Henry were best of friends, nearly inseparable, but always getting into trouble. Henry was a spoiled rich kid who apparently faced little consequences. When the airplane made a hole in the ceiling Woody instantly worried, while Henry said not to worry his dad would hire someone the next day to fix it.
Once forbidden to see Henry, and the secret clubhouse appeale wore off, Henry befriended Tony, a neighbor boy whose family owned the corner market. Tony was similar to Woody and together they had fun, helped each out and both befriended Elmer (Henry went to movies with Elmer to please mom). Woody found out what a true friendship was and it did not include scaring your friend by trying to beat a trolley. It meant helping each other, having fun together and more than anything, mutual respect .
Woody’s World will resonate with any adult who lived during that time, or had parents and grandparents from the time. Teachers have a story they can use with many subjects. Kids have a book that gives them a glimpse of early twentieth-century life, from the home to school, first love to first job. It is a timeless story only because it is a time best not forgotten. Woody’s World is also about the human spirit, family, and people making the best of what they can.
by E. Renee Heiss website illustrated by Chelsea Sekanic bio Character Publishing website Released on December 1, 2011 ISBN: 978-0983935551 124 Pages Ages 8 to 12 5 Stars
Copyright© 2011 by Character Publishing Text: Copyright© 2011 by Elizabeth Renee Heiss Illustrations: copyright © 2011 by Chelsea Sekanic
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