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by Dennis Haseley

Age Range: 10 - 13

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-8037-2609-0
Publisher: Dial

Roy’s younger brother, Pat, narrates a tale of trying to make do during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Their father, like so many others, has left home in search of work to support the family, and their mother sells her knitting to help. Thirteen-year-old Roy builds a large, black box and adds doodads and gadgets to make it appear to be a machine—one that answers questions when they are asked. Neighborhood children pay small fees or give canned food to have the “thinking machine” respond. Of course, it is Roy or one of his friends who are hidden in the marvel, and the payments help stretch the family’s scant budget. Throughout, much is made of neighbors who are unemployed and about tramps who “live” in an empty lot and who appear at doors asking for sustenance. Though Roy’s mother shares what they have, his own hatred of the tramps is extreme and the reasons for it subtle enough to be missed by a less-thoughtful reader. When their father returns home after having found work, it becomes more obvious that Roy has been afraid that his father was also a bum as he reacts to his father’s stories. The relationship between the brothers is poignant, as is the family’s struggle, but this is a fairly slight offering. Roy’s invention is intriguing and may appeal to readers even as they begin to learn about those sad times of many decades ago. (Fiction. 10-13)