Sunday, January 12, 2020

On Snowden Mountain

Watts, Jeri. On Snowden Mountain
September 10th 2019 by Candlewick Press
Personal Copy

When Ellen's father is off fighting in World War II and her mother fails to provide food and supervision because of her depression, Ellen reaches out to her Aunt Pearl, hoping that her aunt will come to Baltimore and help out. Instead, her aunt unceremoniously packs up both Ellen and her mother and takes them back to the mountains in Virginia. There are few creature comforts there, and Ellen has to learn to live without running water and electricity. She also has to attend a one room school house with children who don't always come to school. One of these students, Russell, often comes to school smelling of skunk, and Ellen soon finds out it is because his father has him trapping the animals for the bounty on their fur. Russell's home life is even more dire than Ellen's-- his mother is abused by his alcoholic father, and he doesn't have an aunt to help out. Aunt Pearl is good about necessities, but is unable to make much headway with Ellen's mother's mental health. Ellen tries to help Russell learn to read, although her schoolmates and the town busy bodies frown on it. Eventually, the lives of both children improve a bit.
Strengths: This felt a bit like Gail Rock's 1974 The House Without a Christmas Tree, which I really love, and offers many details about what daily life was like in the country during WWII. Aunt Pearl is typical of the stoic, can-do type of woman who had to struggle with everything from food to clothing to keeping the community together during this time. Ellen's troubles with adjusting to another sort of life are realistic, and the portrayal of a mountain community is not something we see a lot in middle grade literature. A nice, short read.
Weaknesses: Would Ellen's mother have been allowed to fall apart? Yes, I know that mental illness can be devastating, but during WWII, many men were off serving in the warm, and I wonder how many women at home struggled this much. Interesting question, but at the time, attitudes surrounding mental illness were different, and Ellen's mother might have just barely managed to hang on to escape the stigma that mental illness had at the time.
What I really think: This will be a good choice for readers who have to have a book for the World War II project or the decades project and want something with details of life during the 1940s but with more modern sensibilities.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your review. I read it several months ago and the story stays with me. I love stories set in the mountains. It's been a while, but I felt like mental illness ran in the family and that her mother had shown signs before. Anyway, I loved the book and agree with your comments.