Eliza Wheeler’s gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of what happens when six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their mom must start all over again after their father has died. Deep in the woods of Wisconsin, they find a tar-paper shack. It doesn’t seem like much of a home, but they soon start seeing what it could be. During their first year, it’s a struggle to maintain the shack and make sure they have enough to eat. But each season also brings its own delights and blessings—and the children always find a way to have fun. Most importantly, the family finds immense joy in being together, surrounded by nature. And slowly, their little shack starts feeling like a true home—warm, bright, and filled up with love.
Author’s note. Full-color illustrations created with dip pens, India ink, and watercolors.
Scholastic Reading Counts
Wheeler tells her grandmother’s story. In 1932, Marvel was six when her father died and left the family to face the world on their own. Their intrepid mother moved her eight children and all of their belongings into a tar-paper shack in the Wisconsin woods. Together they worked to make the shack habitable, forage the woods for food and firewood, and plant a garden. Autumn brings canning chores and playing games made up together. They endure the harsh Wisconsin winter and emerge in summer to start the cycle again. Despite all of the hardships, this family built on love and determination not only survived but also flourished. This book will resonate with readers who enjoy reading about surviving despite adversity. The story is beautifully written and the art, done in ink and watercolors, reflects the Depression era in which it is set. Overall, it is a marvelous story for a class read-aloud. This is an earnest, upbeat addition for any elementary or juvenile collection. Teachers can use this book to encourage children to tell their own family stories.
When six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their newly widowed mother are forced to leave their farm and move into an abandoned tar-paper shack deep in the woods, it “doesn’t seem like much of a home.” As the seasons pass, however, Marvel and her family members discover the simple treasures their new life offers: in summer, a stream of “cool, clear water,” good soil in which to plant their seeds, and a “blooming berry patch with sweet jewels of blue and red”; canning preserves in autumn and playing “General Store” (when they cannot afford to shop at the real one); an unexpected feast for the “kings and queens of the forest” after a successful winter hunt. By spring, Marvel realizes the shack “looks different now—warm and bright and filled up with love.” Based on Wheeler’s grandmother’s childhood during the Great Depression (per the appended author’s note), this tender tribute avoids sentimentality in favor of honest, child-centered observa¬tions. The illustrations, created with dip pens, India ink, and watercolors, cleverly point out details of the family’s surroundings via labels (of the shack’s contents, the children’s chores, flower names, etc.); the text’s descriptions are memorably poetic (glass jars of preserves and vegetables are stacked in the cellar “like buried treasure”; “snow falls in a blanket of diamonds”). Wheeler’s precise figure-drawing style captures the difficult aspects of the situation and, using numerous shades of green, brown, blue, and yellow, contrasts them against the beauty and warmth of the natural setting.