Wheeler shares a poignant tale, based on her grandmother’s childhood, of a Depression-era family’s hard times.
Marvel, 6, has seven siblings. Their newly widowed mother guides them, as they carry their worldly goods along, into the woods, where they find an abandoned shack. Though decrepit, it’s got a root cellar, a functioning water pump, a wood stove, and a garden spot rich with leaf mold. As summer yields to autumn, Mum does chores for pay in town. The children draw lots for the home tasks: laundry (hand-scrubbed and hung to dry), wood-splitting, and more. A bountiful harvest engenders prodigious canning as the family prepares for the bitter weather ahead. While the children must buy only basic supplies at the general store, their doleful window shopping produces an inventive outdoor game, in which “We can buy anything we want!” Winter brings snow and cold, quilting, reading by the wood stove, and a wild-turkey stew. Wheeler’s lovely ink-and-watercolor double-page spreads, in somber grays, sunlight yellow, and meadow green, evoke both the period and the family’s stark poverty. The thin faces are gray-white, with dark hair and pale pink cheeks. Delicate visual details abound, from the sparkle of evening raindrops to Mum’s side-buttoned apron. Marvel’s ruminative narration takes occasional poetic turns: “Mum stays awake / into the night… / …whispering / to / the / stars.”
A quietly compelling look at an impoverished family’s resourcefulness and resilience. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)