Title: Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story
Author: Dandi Daley Mackall
Illustrator: Chris Ellison
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level: 4.3
Concepts: human resources, scarcity, Great Depression, unemployment, economic history, jobs, altruism
Review: Rudy, a thirteen-year old boy, and his family face extreme hardship during the Great Depression. More than half of all workers in Akron, Ohio, had lost their jobs, including Rudy’s father, and new paid work was difficult to find. Ma waited in relief lines for what could often be stale and moldy food, and Rudy’s sisters found sustenance at the soup kitchen and local mission. Not wanting to be a burden on his struggling family, Rudy decided to take a step similar to other teenagers he had heard about: he hopped a train to go West as a hobo. Dreams of a better life in California and the chance to send money back home helped to sustain him as he experienced hunger, cold, fear, and fatigue while traveling. Along the way, Rudy learned of a hidden network of kindhearted strangers who made it a point to feed hungry hobos passing through.
While the Great Depression may seem like a distant and obscure event to young children, this exceptional book brings the topic to life with its moving text and realistic illustrations. According to the author’s note, a quarter of a million teenagers turned to hobo life as a survival strategy during the Depression, facing issues similar to those that the homeless face today. As historical fiction, Rudy Rides the Rails does an excellent job in providing children with a rich context for understanding problems of unemployment, scarcity, and recession in the economic world around them.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children