Thursday, September 10, 2009

When the Whistle Blows - a compelling coming-of-age story for boys (ages 10 & up)

Sneaking to watch your father's secret society meeting.  Launching rotten cabbages at high school bullies.  Running through an eerie cemetery in the middle of the night.  These are the makings of a great book to read with your sons.  Fran Slayton's debut novel, When the Whistle Blows, is a compelling coming-of-age story that will appeal to a wide range of boys and their families - I highly recommend it.
by Fran Cannon Slayton
NY: Penguin Young Readers Group, c2009.
ages 12 and up
great to read aloud with ages 10 and up
Jimmy Cannon grows up surrounded by the boys and men of his small West Virginia railroad town - his buddies Neil, Mulepie and Ajax, his brothers Bill and Mike, his Uncle Clarence the biology teacher, and the machinists at the railroad yard.  But one man is central to his life: his father, W.P. Cannon.  Throughout this story, Jimmy and his father can never see eye-to-eye; they can barely talk to one another.  Their stubbornness builds a wall of silence between them.  And yet, each of the stories in this novel brings Jimmy closer to his dad, closer to appreciating who he was and what mattered to him.

Each chapter in this novel is a snapshot in time, following a day in Jimmy's life from each year from 1943 until 1949.    The day is particular, though: All Hallows Eve.  Yes, that's Halloween, but more importantly it's Jimmy's father's birthday.  When the Whistle Blows is historical fiction at its best - it gives you a true sense of a place and time so different from ours, but it shares a universal story.  As Jimmy grows from a boy to a young man, he learns to accept the change that is inevitable in his life, that diesel trains are certainly coming and will certainly change his town.  But he also learns that the center of his life isn't necessarily the trains, but his family and friends.

So this book will appeal to you - but will it appeal to your son?  I think it will.  It's full of funny moments and descriptive writing.  Here, Jimmy has just been taunted by his older brother Mike and a friend.
    Cars are more than just a pastime to Rowlesburg High School upperclassmen; they're a living, breathing, oil-changing obsession.  I can see Stubby and Mike laughing in the rearview mirror as the car squeals away.  Pains in my you-know-what, the both of them.
    I spit hard onto the ground.  The spit is good quality - heavy and thick with no lumps - and it comes out in a perfect, spinning wad that slaps itself onto the ground just the way I'd like to slap Stubby upside the head. (p. 25)
Later in this same chapter, Jimmy and his friends develop a scheme to throw rotten cabbages on Stubby's precious car - but end up ambushing Deputy Heevie Marauder's car instead!

Fran Slayton's writing reminds me of Gary Paulsen's How Angel Petersen Got His Name, and Harris and Me - two of my favorite stories of boys growing up and the funny escapades they find themselves in.  I hope you enjoy this!

The review copy was sent to me by first time author Fran Slayton - thank you so much!  Her wonderful novel has received rave reviews from library journals and other bloggers like ShelfElf , GuysLitWire and BookDads

You can buy When the Whistle Blows at your local bookstore or find it at your public library.  Or support Great Kid Books and buy it through Amazon.


  1. Oooooh - I have to read this one! It sounds great and maybe even something that my very picky, book-hating 13-year-old would like.

  2. I loved this book and am giving away the ARC over on my blog!