From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6-Patrick, 8, and Roy, 13, live with their mother while their father is away, looking for work. It's 1929, and the boys are acutely aware of and frightened by the unemployed, broken, and sad "bums" who inhabit a vacant lot; but their deepest fear is that their father has joined the ranks of these desperate men. Roy comes up with the idea for an "Amazing Thinking Machine," which the siblings create from wood and spare parts. Neighborhood kids are invited to "fuel" it with pennies or food and feed in questions written on scraps of paper; hidden inside, Roy or another youth sends out typewritten, witty answers. The novelty of the machine takes the brothers' minds off difficult questions about their father and the identity of the homeless man who visits their house. When their father returns at last with work, the boys begin to face their feelings of abandonment and the realities of the times. Haseley explores the issues of identity and surface appearances, and he introduces readers to destitute characters, some of whom rise above the fray, while others fall victim to the turmoil. Patrick's voice is strong and believable, and Roy comes to life through his brother's eyes. While some readers may find the boys' aversion to the homeless men puzzling, this book has much to offer historical fiction fans.Shawn Brommer, South Central Library System, Madison, WI
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 5-7. From a small child's bewildered viewpoint, Haseley explores how the hardship of the Depression affected ordinary families. Dad has been away a long time looking for work. Patrick, 8, isn't sure what that means, though he does understand that his mother can barely put food on the table. He helps his brother, Roy, 13, build a contraption with a propeller, bell, tubes, and lights, connected to a clackety typewriter, and the local kids pay with food and pennies to feed questions to the "thinking machine" and see it spill out clever answers. The game with the machine is fun at first, but it plays too big a part in the story and becomes a contrived metaphor. It's the low-key family scenes that are unforgettable. The simple language is clear and concrete as Patrick glimpses, but doesn't really want to know, the humiliation of receiving food parcels. Scariest of all is the threat that the homeless are close--and the question he dare not ask: could my dad be a bum like them? Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved