Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story

Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story

Dandi Daley Mackall
Illustrator:  Chris Ellison 
Historical Fiction Picture Book  Series
For ages 7 to 10
Sleeping Bear Press, 2007   ISBN: 978-1585362868

It is 1932 and Rudy’s family, like so many others, has hit hard times. His father cannot find any work and his mother is having to get food from the relief lines to feed the family. Rudy can see that is just isn’t enough food to go around so he decides to do what so many teenagers are doing these days – he will take a train going west and hope that he will find some work somewhere. Perhaps he will be able to send money home. At the very least there will be “one less mouth to feed.”

So Rudy manages to get into the box car of a train and finds that there are two other people already there. He quickly learns that there is a whole world, the hobo world, to figure out. There are dangers to be avoided, a new slang to be learned, special signs to be committed to memory, and much more. One thing Rudy is sure of though. He is not going to be a beggar, and he is not going to rely on any one else, just as his father taught him. Instead he finds work as best he can and he sends home whatever he can spare. Slowly, but steadily, he moves west.

There comes a time though when he comes to a place where there is no work to be found. Rudy is so hungry he cannot bear it and he knows that he is going to have to join the other hoboes and ask for food. They take him in hand and teach him what he needs to know to be a successful hobo and he does his part to contribute to the food gathering for the group. Sometimes it would seem one cannot survive alone and Rudy is able to take comfort in being a part of a family of sorts – a family which looks out for him and which helps him learn what he needs to know to keep safe.

This is a wonderful story about a boy who lived during a very difficult time in American history, a time when many families like Rudy’s were split apart due to poverty and a lack of work. Hoboes developed their own signs, words, rules, and culture, and their life was not for the faint hearted. At the same time though, they took care of their own, as Rudy discovers, and there were those who did their best to help them.

Written with great sensitivity and understanding, this is a fitting tribute to all those boys and young men who left their homes and families to ride the rails looking for work and for new opportunities in lands to the west. Wonderful paintings perfectly compliment the often sobering and thought-provoking text.

At the back of the book readers will find a glossary of hobo words and hobo signs.