Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Children of the Great Depression

Children of the Great Depression

Russell Freedman
For ages 10 and up
Clarion Books, 2005   ISBN: 978-0618446308

When the economy of the United States began to collapse in on itself in the late 1920’s no one really paid too much attention. It was only in late October, 1929 that people began to realize how dire the situation was. And of course, by then, it was too late. Suddenly, apparently overnight, people lost all their savings. Their businesses failed, their jobs disappeared, and they found themselves wondering how they were going to pay their bills and feed their families.

The children in these families understood that their parents were not to blame for what was happening. The Depression was to blame. The children watched when the power was cut off and when food became scarce. They learned to do without and to make do. They learned to accept the situation when the eviction notices arrived and when they had to leave their homes. Sometimes they got to move into another other house or apartment and sometimes they had to move into a shack in a “Hooverville.”

Many children not only had to do with less food, fewer clothes, and inadequate other basic necessities, but they also had to stop going to school. They could not go to school because their families needed them to work, or because they could not support themselves if they went to school. For some it was because their families could not afford to clothe them properly in the winter months. The children had to stay home so they did not freeze at school.

Because times were so hard children “had to grow up fast.” They took on jobs wherever they could and among the migrant population children as young as five or six could be found working in the fields with their parents. Often children ended up becoming the sole providers for a family and child labor laws were ignored all over the country. Indeed by 1930 well over two million children aged eighteen and under were working.

It is extraordinary today to read about the suffering that many Depression era children endured. Not only were they deprived of the basic comforts of life but they were also expected to work, to put up with enormous upheavals in their lives, and in many cases the children ended up homeless and alone. They traveled from place to place by train and on foot, no knowing where their next meal would come from.

Russell Freedman beautifully tells the story of these children, giving readers a picture of the times in which they lived, and thus providing us with an extraordinary portrait of a section of society which many people forget to think about. Incredible black and white period photographs have been used throughout the book to illustrate the text.