Friday, September 4, 2009

Historical Fiction

Picture Book

Wingwalkers by Rosemary Wells, Illustrated by Brian Selznick

Bibliographic Information:
Wells, R. (2002). Wingwalkers. New York: Hyperion Books For Children.

Set in the Great Depression, Reuben and his family are living a good life in Ambler, Oklahoma until one day the winds begin to blow dust into the farming community. Soon after, the town is desolate, Reuben's parents are out of work, and Reuben's future seems uncertain. Desperate for work, Reuben's father applies for a job as an airplane wingwalker. They sell all their furniture and move to Minnesota where Dixie and her plane are waiting. Reuben's life has turned upside down and where he was frightened before, he is now brave and experiencing life in a new and different way.

Lead Comments:This book shows the devastation of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression without being harsh and scary. There are funny moments, but you still get a feel for how difficult life was in the 1930's. This book demonstrates tolerance of people's differences and how people are just the same inside. I like how the ending leaves you wondering what Reuben's family will do next, but with the feeling that things will be okay.

School Library Journal: (Excerpt)

Reuben is a carefree second grader living in rural Oklahoma with his mother, a caf cook, and his father, a dance instructor, when the Depression and Dust Bowl end the family's stable, quiet way of life. ...the boy's father takes a job as an airplane wingwalker in a Minnesota traveling carnival. Reuben's retelling of the dramatic events is subtle and matter-of-fact, filled with the small, everyday details that color memories and help readers to see life through his eyes. Filled with muted earth tones and hinting of folk art, Selznick's striking, bordered paintings create an evocative portrait of the era, and aptly complement the quality text. An engaging story, and a well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable book.-Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. (Retrieved November 6, 2009 from

Kirkus Reviews: (Excerpt)
This big-hearted, Depression-era, American fairy tale seems to come alive out of a former generation like a well-worn family yarn. Reuben's perfect childhood in Oklahoma disintegrates with the arrival of the Dust Bowl that deprives his parents of their jobs. This presents his father, a teacher of ballroom dance, with a thrilling opportunity to become a "wingwalker" with a traveling county fair, an opportunity that his wife strongly opposes. Physically small, Reuben himself has a reputation for being a bit of a sissy whose nickname is "shrimp-boats." He can barely stand to watch his father execute his ballroom steps on the plane wing, let alone think of accompanying him. But the folks of the fair take Reuben to their hearts and give him encouragement. Wells's prose is spare but has both richness and freshness of simile and image, e.g., "a drilling rig pumping away like a big iron grasshopper." ...[Selznick's] paintings are full of sky, airplanes, and upward-looking faces. (Retrieved November 6, 2009, from

Teacher Tools & Library Leads:

With the use of nonfiction books, give the students a background about the Depression and the Dust Bowl so they understand the kind of desperation one felt during that era for work, food, and fun. Then when reading Wingwalker, the students will have a better understanding and will enjoy Reuben's experiences along with him. As a writing assignment, have the students give the book another ending where they predict where Reuben and his family will go next and what jobs his mom and dad will find.

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