Review: Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter

born bred great depression

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Kimberly Bulcken Root

Winter tells the story of his father’s childhood during the Great Depression in this historical picture book.  Through the life of his father, he shows the poverty of the time.  Grandpa Winter searched for work in the area, often unable to find any, which meant that there was no money to help support the family of 8 children.  When he did find work, it was dirty and back-breaking labor.  This is contrasted with the simple joys of childhood as Winter’s father spent time outside exploring the woods and walking the railroad tracks.  The family grew most of their own food, eating lots of produce from the garden and canning excess to eat during leaner times.  There was little ease in their lives, but what they could find they used.  There was time as a family for music, chess and reading books.  There was time to explore the natural world.  This glimpse of history opens our eyes to the way we live today as well.

Winter’s words are compelling, inviting readers into the world of the Great Depression.  He manages to tell the story of the poverty through a lens that children will be able to relate to.  Focusing on the family life, including many people in each bed, there are definite contrasts with today’s economic problems.  Winter does not romanticize the Great Depression, instead he brings it to life through the history of his own family.  There is a lovely simplicity to the story that makes it all the more readable.

Root’s illustrations are done in pencil, ink and watercolor.  They have a softness to them that evokes the past.  The colors are subdued with the focus on telling the story through the images as well as the words.  Root manages to show the Great Depression through images that are beautiful, quiet and rich.

This historical picture book celebrates strength of family and overcoming hardship.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.

Better Parents? Or More Books? Or Are They One and the Same?

This Sunday, Thomas Friedman posted an opinion column in The New York Times.  His premise, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with, is that we blame teachers for our children’s lack of success when it is parents who can make all of the difference.

I thought the article was going to be about the way that modern American parents are not as involved as they could be.  But instead it went in a direction that I had not anticipated.  Friedman spoke about the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and how American 15-year-olds are not excelling compared to peers in other nations.

The PISA team started to look beyond the exam itself and interviewed 5000 families, comparing their responses with the children’s results on the PISA.  And here, my friends, is what they discovered:

“Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”

Additionally, it was found that being engaged with your child: monitoring homework, ensuring your child gets to school, rewarding their efforts, and talking about the importance of college are all linked to better attendance, grades, and test scores.

But for me, it’s that reading piece that really shines.  Beautiful really.