The Coal Thief by Alane Adams

The Coal Thief

by illustrated by
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Adams (The Red Sun, 2015, etc.) and Gallegos offer a children’s series in which a young hero’s father teaches him a lesson about thievery—and sharing—during the Great Depression.

Young Georgie is cold. There hasn’t been any coal for three days, and there’s not likely to be more anytime soon. When his friend Harley drags him on an adventure to see a train, Georgie’s not sure why one train would be better than any other. But Harley, hauling along a wheelbarrow, assures him that the “black gold” will be worth it. When a train pulls into the station, Georgie sees what makes it so special: it’s full of coal. Harley dares him to go up the side and steal some, and though Georgie protests, Harley convinces him (“Ain’t you tired of being cold every morning?”). Georgie gets some pieces, with Harley egging him on for more, until the train starts to move. Knocked off balance, he finds himself pulled down into the pile of coal, stuck, until his father, who works at the railroad, appears to rescue him. Harley high-tails it out of there before he can be caught, so Georgie faces his father’s judgment alone. Papa makes it clear that stealing is wrong (in plain, straightforward dialogue that children will immediately understand), but he also knows that the train is gone; they can’t just return the coal, so they have to do something good with the ill-gotten fuel. So Papa guides Georgie to the homes of families in town that are even poorer than theirs, and Georgie learns a valuable lesson about sharing. The dialogue between the characters feels natural to the time and place, and the text size and amount, as well as its approachable vocabulary, makes this a good choice for confident early-elementary readers. Gallegos’ art is compelling, showing the poverty of Georgie’s family in little details, such as his too-short coat sleeves and the holes in his boots. Harley has an impish appearance, while Georgie’s father’s facial expressions show his worry and kindness clearly. Overall, Georgie is an appealing protagonist, and his adventure may encourage early elementary school readers to read more about why communities like Georgie’s struggled during the 1930s.

A beautifully illustrated, realistic slice of history with a likable, repentant thief as its hero.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-940716-27-5
Page count: 32pp
Publisher: Spark Press
Program: Kirkus Indie
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