Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reading Jill Paton Walsh-A Chance Child

This is an award-winning challenge hosted by the Gathering Books blog, 

You can hook up with this kitlit meme: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA at teach mentor textsthanks to Jen and Kellee!  Visit to find still more books for your TBR list!

  It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys, a variety of reviews to find even more books that you can't live without.


I love Jill Paton Walsh’s book, The Green Book, and have put it into the hands of many students, but most of the time recommend it for a terrific read aloud to middle grade readers.  It is a good opening to post-Apocalyptic literature, and gives a surprising, satisfying and hopeful end.
So, when looking for an award-winning book for the challenge hosted by the Gathering Books blog, I was happy to see another book by Walsh.  It is A Chance Child by Jill Paton Walsh, which won the Phoenix Award in 1998.  According to the Children's Literature Association site, this award is given by them, an organization of teachers, scholars, librarians, editors, writers, illustrators, and parents interested in encouraging the serious study of children's literature, created for a book originally published in the English language, and intended to recognize books of high literary merit. The Phoenix Award is named after the fabled bird that rose from its ashes with renewed life and beauty. Phoenix books also rise from the ashes of neglect and obscurity and once again touch the imaginations and enrich the lives of those who read them.

In A Chance Child, the main character’s name is Creep, whose abusive mother names him that and we also find she keeps him in a cupboard most of the time.   The opening scene is a dump, from where he takes off along a canal in an abandoned boat. An older brother Chris, who keeps Creep alive by sneaking leftovers to the cupboard, searches frantically when he finds him missing.  Although the main story concerns child labor of the 1800’s, there is a link to today’s time in that this family treats their children poorly as well.  Walsh seems to want us to see the connection that children are at risk no matter what time they live in.
The book alternates between the stories of Creep in his boat, and Chris on his search, and we find Creep has somehow slipped back into the 19th century, where he meets two runaways.  The reader is thrust into the cruel world of child labor. Walsh describes the lives of young children during this Victorian time who work twelve hour plus days in terrible circumstances, while the older brother Chris eventually seeks and finds information about his brother in old historical documents at a library.  It’s a complicated and heartbreaking story, made all the more troubling knowing that Walsh has done her homework so well in the research of labor conditions of that time.  There is some satisfaction in the ending, however, but sharing that will be telling too much!

Here is one scene from one of the work experiences of the children, many of them pre-teen:  One day working at the pot bank was much like another.  The first comers to work, very early in the morning, were the little children.  They came before the light to kindle the fires in the drying room.  There was coal ready, piled damp and cold on the wharf by the riverbank, for the master saw to that.  As to dry sticks and ready sparks, that he did not trouble over, but the boys must find those for themselves.  So they crept in and out of the hovels, where the furnace mouths blazed red, spaced all around the bottom of the great firing kilns, and the firemen kept watch, ready to chase and beat any child they saw taking out a shovelful of fire; and yet till someone succeeded no new fires could be lit at all, and a beating from the mold workers when they arrived loomed nearer, and stiffened the courage of small creatures risking a beating from the firemen now. 

This book is slim, but an extraordinarily well put together time fantasy.  I was reminded of the atmosphere of David Almond’s book Skellig as I read.  The descriptions of the landscape, the terrible work conditions and the characters are beautifully drawn.
Wikipedia has a good article about Lewis Hine, whose photos aided the end to child labor and the formation of the National Child Labor Committee, which is a non-profit organization in the United States that serves as a leading advocate for child labor reform.   Although the book concerns children in Great Britain, similar conditions were happening in the United States also.

Picture Books this week:

I Am Different! Can You Find Me?  by Manjula Padmanabhan   I just read a review of this from Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading and the next day walked downstairs to a colleague’s primary classroom to tell her about the book (we exchange good finds), and she had just checked out the book from the library.  It is a book that can easily cross ages from kindergarten up to encourage good discussions about differences and varied opinions as to what is ‘different’.  Please read Mary Lee’s review.

When I was talking with my colleague, she also shared The Wishing Tree by Roseanne Rosethong, another good picture book about wishing and learning that wishes might turn out to be granted in different ways than expected.  It’s a good story to encourage conversation about the meaning of cultural traditions and the fact that things are not always what they seem.

What's next:  I didn’t finish The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, but love it so far.  After that I will need to prepare for two book groups I’m starting in a couple of weeks.  One is reading The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and another will examine short stories about immigrants in California, background reading by middle school students who will be traveling to California in April.  I will be scanning anthologies by different authors looking for about eight or nine stories.  If you have a favorite already, I’d love to hear about it.  

photo credit: Dystopos via photopin cc

photo credit: John McNab via photopin cc


  1. Hmm. I don't know any short stories. I love Esperanza Rising which discusses immigrants in CA, but it's a novel. I'll try and think and will let you know if there is anything else that comes to mind.

  2. I LOVED The Boy in the Striped Pajamas much! I can't think of any short stories but Allen Say has written some fantastic picture books on that topic. Also another book you might look at is Best Friends Forever: A World War II Scrapbook by Beverly Patt.

    Happy Reading!

  3. I am not any help either in your search for picture books. But, thank you for The Green Book. That one is new to me and I can't wait to check it out.

  4. Chance Child sounds wonderful...I'll need to use it (well, read it first) for our unit on the Industrial Revolution. Sandra Cisneros is a wonderful writer similar to Pam Munoz Ryan who was mentioned above (Esperanza Rising) as is Julia Alvarez - both have short stories, I does Gary Soto.

  5. Wonderful selections as always. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for sharing all of your books with us!

    Misty @
    Think, Wonder, & Teach

  7. Wow, that book looks haunting. Sounds so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Since Skellig is one of my favorite reads of all time, I would make sure to find this book in our library as well. Did you know that Skellig has a prequel? My name is Mina - I think it was published last year, you should check that out as well. I also love the photos that you have interwoven in your review here, Linda, made the entire thing sound so 'haunting' as Jen noted. I haven't read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but I have seen the film, and yup, the author is coming here in Singapore (or he may already be here for a reading festival), and Garth Nix too! :)

    1. I've read other Almond books, but no, not that one. Thanks for telling me. I do love those books. It will be fun to meet John Boyne, & go to a reading festival too, of course. Thanks, Myra.


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