When the Whistle Blows by Fran Cannon Slayton is what I would describe as a “Sleeper Hit” of a book. It’s sat in my pile of TBR since last November when I received an ARC at NCTE. There was nothing about the title , the cover , or the back blurb that grabbed me. I was thinking it was the kind of book that would appeal to my husband, but it hadn’t made it’s way to the top of his pile yet either.
I can’t remember where I saw a little write-up about the book, but the cover looked familiar to me in a, “I am sitting on your shelf waiting to be read,” kind of way. Sure enough, there it was in my study with the other TBR books that don’t fit on my bedside stand.
I LOVED When the Whistle Blows. My husband woke this morning to find me crying over the book (again) while drinking my morning cup of coffee.
I can’t explain why the back blurb didn’t originally pull me in, since it is most of the first page of the book. When I started it this time, the first page grabbed me and would not let go.
The book has a unique format. Each chapter takes place one year after the previous chapter/story. Each story takes place on All Hallows’ Eve between 1943 and 1949. The setting in Rowlesburg, West Virginia is at a time when the steam engine was still king, but in danger of being tipped from its pedestal by the new diesel locomotive.
The story is narrated in the voice of the main character, Jimmy.
A favorite uncle’s wake, a state championship football game, the new school principal’s refusal for students to take the day off for the start of hunting season, his father’s prediction of the demise of the steam engine train. None of these are stories that someone would be able to convince me under any circumstance that I would want to read about…yet…I couldn’t stop reading. I hung on every word. I was transported to Rowlesburg and felt as if Jimmy was my brother and his family, mine.
Perhaps it is the background I bring to the book:
My aunt’s home in Rocky River, Ohio had a railroad that went through the back yard less than 100 yards away. You can still hear the train when it comes through the country each week (less frequently each passing year).
The only song I remember my father singing to me as a child has the words, “when the whistle blows” in the chorus (Remarkable-I did not remember that little tidbit until I sat down to start writing this review! Now I need to find out what the rest of those words were!)
Just last week I was trying to explain to a parent new to town from the East Coast why some schools south of us are closed (for county fairs or first days of hunting season).
No matter the reason, I found this book a magical read. I hope it is strongly considered for a Newbery (and a Cybil). It haunts me like last year’s book The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.
Write it up for Mock Newbery Contention!