Get ready… a new school year is coming up fast!
A fun part of this time of year, besides gathering together school supplies and new-clothes shopping, is sharing books that get us reading and thinking. LEAH’S PONY and THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS & ANGELS are very different stories about how kids and friends, kids and families, help each other through tough times.
Everyone knows the discouraging feeling when everything is going wrong, friends “disappear” and we just want to say, “I quit.” These two books show us how other kids who’ve had this feeling found ways to ask for help and find hope.
Hard times can mean a lot of different things – not having money to buy a new backpack or new shoes for school. Or hard times can mean mom and dad have lost their jobs; maybe the family has lost its home. Sometimes help is found in a neighbor’s kindness. These two books show the power and pleasure in helping one another.
Many families today are losing their homes. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, many farm families were losing everything – home, farm, even the land they lived on.
Leah has a special pony and rides it everywhere. She cannot imagine ever parting with the pony she loves. But one day, Leah makes the very difficult decision to sell her horse.
LEAH’S PONY is based on true historical events – the coming together of friends and neighbors to bid on farms put up for auction. People bid for chickens and tractors, horses and hogs, with pennies and nickels and then gave all the items back to the family. That way, through “penny auctions,” a farm family’s debt was settled and they could keep their home, farm and livelihood.
For many kids summer is a time to play, vacation, and let go of worries and concerns. But for many kids, summer is a time of crisis. Parents lose jobs. Families lose homes.
In this middle-grade novel, Delia discovers the miracle of friendship – the “real angels” who share hammers, pound nails, and fry up lick-smacking pans of chicken for all the helping hands.
I asked the author why she wrote this novel and how a child can “pick up a hammer” and make a difference.
[SW] The main character, Delia, began speaking to me. Her voice came clear and distinct and never wavered.
Many of the themes of the story, I hope will have meaning to readers: Longing for something you don’t have, questioning the beliefs of your parents and testing the power of faith and forgiveness. Delia’s story includes all of these.
I wanted to write a story that spoke of community and of the type of hope that organizations like Habitat for Humanity can bring to a family. At one point in the writing I tried to make a group of actual Habitat-kid volunteers enter stage left. It didn’t work and had to be tossed, because it wasn’t Delia’s story.
[NBF] What was the inspiration?
As a teenager I went on a church summer trip to upstate New York. We spent a week fixing a building. I remember my hand aching from squeezing a calking gun all day, waking up to music from the Peanuts cartoons, and the amazing food that the women of the community cooked for us. I thanked one of the women one day and she replied, “Honey, all I know how to do is cook fried chicken.” For the character, Miss Martha, cooking fried chicken was her way of being an angel.
My work with Habitat over the years inspired me as well. There is something magical in coming together with friends and strangers to do good work, expecting nothing in return. Years ago, after Hurricane Katrina, my church built the shell of a Habitat house in a parking lot in a single day. In the morning there was nothing but wood and nails and a blueprint and by the end of the day, there was a home. That kind of transformation is miraculous, and it comes from the hands of ordinary people.
[NBF] What can kids do to help?
[SW] There are lots of ways for kids to get involved. Certainly Habitat for Humanity (www.habitat.org) has opportunities for volunteers of all ages. Click on the “Get Involved” tab and go to “Youth Programs.”
If picking up a hammer isn’t your thing, then check out Do Something.org (www.dosomething.org) and click on “What’s Your Thing?” Whatever you care about – animals, the environment, or discrimination – you can get involved.