Title: The Wild Man
Author: Mark Barratt
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Concepts: scarcity, poverty, wealth
Review: Joe Rat had worked for more than five years searching the rat-infested sewers of London's seedy Pound's Field for coins and scraps, only to have most of what he earned stolen by that monster called Mother. He had no intention of returning, even though he was homeless, hungry, and unemployed. His remaining shilling and change might pay for food and lodging for four more days, but after that he would have to sell the clothes off his back. Joe knew he could be a good street sweeper, but the other boys were all bigger and meaner than him, and they protected their turf with a vengeance.
Joe's situation started to improve for the better when the cook for a wealthy family in an upscale neighborhood gave him a chance to earn a little money. The homeowner, Mr. Harvey, was a philanthropist who operated several shelters for homeless children. He took an interest in Joe and ultimately wound up giving him a place to live and a job. He even tracked down Joe's long lost father from the Canadian wilderness and brought him back to London. Yet even as Joe gratefully considered these changes in his life, he also developed a heightened awareness of the erratic behavior and obvious jealousy of Mr. Harvey's son Alec. Could Joe prevent Alec from taking away his new blessings just like the thief who had stolen all his savings just a few months earlier?
The richly-developed characters and constantly moving plot make for satisfying reading, albeit with a constant nagging worry about Joe's next bout with bad luck. With its setting in Victorian London and its focus on both the gritty underworld and the rising upper class, this book presents an interesting contrast of the wealthy and dirt poor individuals who coexisted in a city bursting at its seams.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children