Saturday, July 30, 2011

When the Whistle Blows

If I could get a bunch of boys ages ten and older and my Dad to read one book of fiction and then be a fly on a wall while they talked it over, it would be When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton.

Slayton’s book, a 2012 Virginia Readers Choice nominee for middle school books, is touching and funny and sweet and mischievous and sentimental and much more. The story, told in vignettes, relates Jimmy Cannon’s life from 1942-1948 in a rural West Virginia railroad town. Each story is set on All Hollow’s Eve which happens to be Jimmy’s father’s birthday, the annual meeting of an Irish secret society, every kid’s favorite holiday for spookiness and pranks….and another significant event that you’ll have to discover when you read the book.

The more Jimmy’s world stays the same, the more change we see in the six Halloweens of his adolescence. We witness the decline of steam engine dominance in West Virginia and the US and our modern life coming down the tracks in a way we wish we could slow up a bit.

As an adult reader, I love the concept of When the Whistle Blows. Slayton’s stories are from her father and grandfather. We feel her become a part of their world in a way most men of those times did not allow women folk to do. I feel similarly to my Dad and grandfathers. I can never be fully part of their world….but the stories they’ve given me of their lives and times allow me a presence that I cherish.

The very best description of When the Whistle Blows is given in a youtube video by the author in her own words on her terrific website. Take a look!


Slayton, F. When the Whistle Blows. New York: Philomel. 2009. Print.

Another great feature in the edition of the book that I read is the Other Books You May Enjoy list inside the front cover….books similar in “feel” to When the Whistle Blows

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko (I loved this book)
The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had by Kristen Levine (wonderful story)
The Desperado Who Stole Baseball by John H. Ritter
The Last Newspaper Boy in America by Sue Corbett
The Liberation of Gabriel King by K.L. Going
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
Sticks by Joan Bauer
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

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