Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Book Review: Little Heathens

"Little Heathens" by Mildred Armstrong Kadish is a little gem of a book. It is a memoir from the author’s childhood, which was spent on a farm in Iowa during the depression. The chapters paint such vivid pictures of life during that time that I actually recognized remnants of that era in my own family history.

I loved this book. I found it to be a kind of "Little House on the Prairie" set in the ‘30's. What impressed me the most was how hard everyone had to work. If we made our kids work that hard today, it wouldn’t be long before we received a nice little visit from a state social worker! Instead of being harmed by all the hard work, though, it set the author up with character and a work ethic that served her well the rest of her life. Made me wonder if I should be assigning a couple chores to my 4-year-old. :)

I’m not sure how much of the hard work reported in "Little Heathens" was due to the fact that the depression was happening versus how much was normal rural life without modern conveniences like electricity and running water. The main difference I can surmise is that during the depression, the adults lived with the constant worry that if they couldn’t pay their taxes, they would lose their property. (I remember from the "Frontier House" shows on PBS that the kids had a much easier time adjusting than the parents, and I can guess that the same was true during the depression.)

Kadish's family had to make everything, and do everything, from scratch – not unlike what some in the eco-movement are trying to recreate today. In depression era rural Iowa, however, there was no choice. After all that work, is it any wonder that people embraced every time saving and labor saving product invented? Now, of course, we recognize the wastefulness of some of those products. What a gift we have to be able to choose which labor saving technology to embrace and which to reject!

I’d give this beautifully written book an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars, recommended for all readers high school and up (there is some language you might not want your kids to read). I couldn’t put it down, and when I finished the last page, I returned to the preface. Before I knew it, I had reread the first three chapters. I would have kept right on reading, but I had work to do.


Jenn said...

Sounds like a cute book and.... my two cents: yes, assign chores to your four year old.

Even if it is as small as "make sure the cabinet doors are closed" or "put away shoes in the closet" -- in addition to cleaning his own room as best he can. It gets him into the habit of doing things as part of the household very young. I was washing dishes at the age of 4 (and if I didn't do a good job, I would be pulled out of bed to rewash any that were still dirty - granted, an extreme case but...)

Green Bean said...

Wonderful. I can't wait to read it. Love those kinds of books.

Donna said...

JAM: Hit By a Farm is certainly a funny title! If it's as good as it sounds, I'll have to check that one out!

jennconspiracy: I think you're right about the chores thing -- just deciding what I can give him. Your 4-year-old dish washing experience would have fit right in this book!

gb: Hope you enjoy it!

Joyce said...

Another blogger recommended this book, too. I;'ve got it on my list now!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for reviewing this book! It sounds wonderful and I don't think I would have ever known about it otherwise.

Putting it on my "wishlist" right now!!

Donna said...

Joyce: I heard about it from down---to---earth. I hope you enjoy it!

G: That's why we do this! Thanks for your comment.