Monday, October 6, 2014

Whistle in the Dark

I'm digging into my basket of mid-grade books... so for the next few Mondays, that's what I'll be sharing. And there are so many good ones!

Whistle in the Dark
by Susan Hill Long
192 pages; ages 8-12
Holiday House, 2014

 This wonderfully rich coming-of-age story is set in Ozarks. The year is 1925. It's Clem Harding's thirteenth birthday, a year when he'll leave school to work in the lead mines. It's also the year of the deadliest tornado in US history.

Clem wants a dog for his birthday. Instead, he gets a miner's cap, and Pap teaches him how to light the carbide lamp. Together they tramp to the mine, though Clem would rather be any place else - as long as it was above ground with sky overhead. Heck, Clem would rather be in school than moving stone.

Susan Long does a wonderful job bringing us into the mine: "... the area they were to work was high enough to stand in and wide enough for five men, with rock columns left at regular enough intervals so the roof wouldn't collapse." There are smells: wet dirt, cigarettes. And noise: explosions, hammering, shovels thocking against the wall, clanking of rail cars.

When a dog finally does show up, it isn't at all like the pup he pictured. This one had short stubby legs, longish hair, and a wagging tail. Better yet, Pap agrees that Clem can let him stay - but only for a day or two.

There are lots of adventures: playing hookey from the mine, meeting a girl.There are some hard times too: Clem's sister dies, there's a mining accident, and a tornado levels most of the town. The characters are well-drawn, the story engaging - and Long adds a note at the end to ground us in the history behind the story.

Today is Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday round-up. Drop by to see what other bloggers are reviewing. Review copy provided by publisher.


  1. This sounds so good. Love the cover, too. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I've added it to my pile of books to read before the year gets away.

  2. The cover is a little darker in person, and it's been a hard sell. I adore historical fiction, but my students tend not to pick it up no matter how good it is.

    1. I agree, the cover is dark.... with a sense of foreboding.

  3. I love this book. It's one of the best middle-grade historical fictions I've read in the last year or so.

  4. I've heard of this book but haven't read it. Glad to know you recommend it so highly.

  5. I hadn't heard of this! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It sounds wonderful! Not sure what side of the Ozarks it takes place, but from my vantage point here in eastern Kansas, I'm not too far away.

  6. I love the cover. And it sounds like a compelling story. I hope the dog saves the day!