R My Name is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff
The last two books I read took place during World War II; this time around, I went a little further back in time to the Great Depression. R My Name is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff, written for children under 12, is set in 1936, when hopes for FDR’s plans to work kept people going. Not only did I find this book entertaining, but very educational about life during this era.
Rachel, 12, lives in the city with her Pop and younger siblings, Cassie and Joey. She loves school, and soaks up everything she learns like a sponge. She’s friendly with everyone in her neighborhood, including the butcher, Charlie, who gives her slices of bologna and scraps for Clarence, the stray cat she feeds. Rachel and her family are especially close to Miss Mitzi, who runs the flower shop on the block. Rachel and Miss Mitzi share a love for letter writing and have plans for future letters to write, including a congratulatory note to Babe Ruth for an extraordinary hitting season.
When Pop tells the family they’ll be moving away from the city to a farm where he hopes to get a job at a bank, the kids are devastated to be leaving everything they know and love. They’d love for Miss Mitzi to come with them, but Pop doesn’t want to burden her with the uncertain conditions they’ll be living in. Once the family gets to the new farm, they discover the conditions aren’t exactly what they expected—the roof of the house has holes, there’s no electricity, and the barn has boards missing from the sides. The family is determined to make it work, though, and as they get settled in during a snow storm, they begin to make the farm a home.
Unfortunately, Pop’s job at the bank doesn’t work out and he’s forced to leave the family behind to go to Canada where they’re looking for workers to build a road into the U.S. He promises to write and send money as soon as he can, but Rachel is left in charge of her siblings. She’s determined to turn their luck around and make Pop proud, all on her own.
I found Rachel to be a very appealing and strong character. She did whatever it took to keep her family from sinking; including using her birthday money to buy a goat so they could eventually have milk. Rachel is an avid reader, and references Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. I definitely saw a lot of parallels between the two characters, and considering my love for that author and her wonderful books, that’s quite the compliment.
On the exact opposite of the liking spectrum is Rachel’s sister, Cassie. I felt bad while reading it that I could dislike a child so much, especially one dealing with life during the Great Depression without her father, but there were times I wanted to reach into the book and smack her. The fact Rachel never did just shows how patient she is and how much she loves her family.
I’ve never read Giff before, but as a two-time Newbery Honor winner, her previous books must also be excellent and should guarantee a spot on your shelves for this title. I highly recommend stocking this title and giving it prominent placement for children to read about life during the Great Depression, as they’ll learn enough about the time period to be prepared for further learning at school.