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When the Whistle Blows Hardcover – June 11, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Slayton's sweet and nostalgic debut novel tells the story of seven consecutive Halloweens, starting in 1943, in the life of teenage Jimmy Cannon. He wants nothing but to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brothers and work for the railroad, which runs through his hometown of Rowlesburg, W. Va. His dad, however, believes that the railroads are dying, and that Jimmy's future is elsewhere. As each year passes, readers get glimpses of Jimmy's small-town life: a late-night wake for a favorite uncle, a prank gone awry, a robbery with nearly disastrous consequences, etc. Slayton takes a few wrong turns, notably the chapters featuring the football championship and the boorish school principal who opposes hunting season, both of which have clichéd resolutions. Though the nature of the book-devoid of Jimmy's growth over the 364 days between each chapter-can feel disjointed, Jimmy, his father and the townsfolk have unique, compelling voices that nicely convey the sense of small-town America during and after World War II. Ages 10-up.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 6–10—These seven coming-of-age stories in the life of Jimmy Cannon all take place on All Hallow's Eves in a small West Virginia railroad town, from 1943 through 1949. The date is significant because it is the birthday of Jimmy's father, a railroad man, and the most important figure in his life. Fran Cannon Slayton's novel ((Philomel, 2009) captures the youthful joy and excitement in Jimmy's voice when he initially talks about the "iron horse." He wants to work on the railroad when he grows up and ignores his father's predictions about the coming of diesel trains. As the stories come full circle, we learn that his father's predictions have come true. We first meet Jimmy when he is in the seventh grade and up to all kinds of pranks with his "platoon" of buddies. In subsequent stories, Jimmy's father outmaneuvers the school principal who doesn't understand the importance of the first day of hunting season, and Jimmy experiences a train accident and witnesses an accidental death on the tracks. Each character's voice reflects the emotion of the experience described. Peter Berkrot does a brilliant job of personalizing each of the men in Jimmy's life and gives listeners a vivid sense of the boy's maturation over the years. These tales about life in small-town America during a bygone era provide a memorable listening experience.—Edith Ching, Washington Latin Public Charter School, DC
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. --This text refers to the Audible Audio Edition edition.
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The book was quite different than what I assumed, it was better than expected. But first I'll share that my almost-twelve year old son grabbed the book first and when he read the back cover he said, "This is the best idea for a story I've heard in a long time!" He put aside the book he was currently reading in order to read this one and he finished it over two days, riveted to it. He said it was a very good book with sadness in the end and he implored me to read it right away.
When I began reading it I was surprised by the format and the storytelling style. The format is telling one long story of what happens on All Hallows Eve, in seven stories total. So, the book is like a short story collection of one boy's life from ages 12-18. Author Fran Cannon Slayton weaves in details of what happened in the last year and more about the main character's life and of his family and the changing times so with each chapter we learn more and more about the family, the railroad, the times and how they are changing.
Secondly I was surprised at the voice of the character. I was reminded of the wonderful storytelling of my grandmother who passed away recently at age 98. I used to love hearing her old tales, rich in the language of days gone by, with local terms and old fashioned sayings. I love the way the author chose to tell this story! This storytelling style is not common in new published fiction for readers aged 9-12. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I wondered if today's kids would like it and specifically asked my son what he thought of that method of storytelling. He said he loved it because it was different than most books he reads and that it made him feel like he was transported back in time and really helped him feel like he was in that place and in that time. You couldn't wish for much more than that in a story! (I'll note that his favorite genre is fantasy such as ERAGON and secondarily he likes fiction such as Andrew Clements, so I was happily surprised that he enjoyed this writing style which is very different from the books he usually reads.)
Two elements that I was drawn to were the very strong family bonds especially between the brothers and the boy's father (the mother is not a strong figure in the story) and the feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie between the teenaged boys and the men. These were clear in the stories about pranks with friends and dealing with an older bully, the football championship game, the men who worked on the railroad together and the adult men in the Secret Society. This is a masculine book through and through with strong men as role models. This is a book that boys should read and is one that I hope girls will enjoy as well.
As I already said my son said the book had sadness in it, and that is true. The book is emotional and I shed tears in the scenes when characters were mourning deaths of people they loved.
The book is well written and the author is an excellent storyteller. I really enjoyed this book.
I can't say much more without spoiling the story.
I was left wishing there were more books on the market like this one...
If you have a boy in your life aged 9-12 have them read this book. Actually, any aged reader with an interest in reading good storytelling or interested in tales from the 1940s or about railroading would enjoy it. It would make a great read aloud from parent to child or even grandparent to child (the grandparent may enjoy this very much also).
I hope schools and libraries purchase this book as I feel it will appeal to some readers who have trouble finding newly published fiction that they like.
Railroad and Trolley Museums as well should offer this for sale in their gift shops. Parents of train enthusiast children are always on the lookout for good books with trains in them.
This is a window into the 1940s in a time when steam trains were on the way out and diesels were coming in, so the book can be used in classrooms as an educational book as well. I can also imagine this being a summer reading program selection.
The last thing I'll say is this book deserves to win an award. It is that good!