Faint echoes of the middle volumes of the Little House series are all that animate this bland, Depression-era epistolary tale.
Apps opens with a superfluous introduction to his fictional family and their historical background and closes with two pages of letter-writing exercises. In between, he records five months of life on a Wisconsin farm. Although the family’s removal to the farm is triggered by the loss of the father’s factory job, hardship seems very far-off. During the period covered by the book, the weather is idyllic, money never seems tight (along with horses and heavy equipment, George’s father buys both a puppy, shipped in from a distant locale, and a retired circus pony), and not even the death of a cow or the dumping of a load of seed oats in a ditch results in any sort of setback. All is told via the correspondence between 12- (later 13-) year-old George Struckmeyer and his grandmother back in Cleveland. Grandma responds with eye-glazing platitudes (“What a Fourth of July celebration! Picnics are fun, aren’t they? And having one near a lake makes it even more fun”) to George’s long, polished accounts. He tells of social events, baseball games, getting the hay in, feeding a passing hobo and putting on an amateur circus in the barn, among other small adventures.
Neither George’s experiences nor the author’s pedagogical additions offer much to engage readers’ hearts or minds. (Historical fiction. 10-12)