Stepping on the Cracks

by Hahn, Mary Downing. (Clarion Books, 1991 ISBN 0-395-58507-4) Novel. 216 pages. Grades 4+.
This book was reviewed by Carol Otis Hurst in Teaching K-8 Magazine.


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In 1944, while her brother is overseas fighting in World War II, eleven-year-old Margaret gets a new view on the school bully Gordy, when she finds him hiding his own brother Stuart, an army deserter, and decides to help him. When Margaret's own brother is killed in the war, her feelings toward Stuart become more complicated. Stuart's own stand against the war is not simplistic although Margaret's parents think it is a matter of cowardice versus patriotism.

The pacifism portrayed in the book can be the focus for a debate and students might like to read Charley Skedaddle by Beatty or Shades of Gray by Caroline Reeder as well as Avi's Fighting Ground to get some idea and perspective on arguments for and against such a position as experienced in other wars.

On a lighter level, life in small town Maryland during World War II is carefully depicted in Hahn's book. The toys and pastimes of the era and the effect of rationing and shortages as well as the patriotism of the time are strong parts of the book. Students might like to investigate any of these things more carefully. Their own grandparents may be able to add to the sense of World War II eras.

A look at Hahn's considerable skills as a writer could be the next step. She manages to portray an era, deal with and debate the concept of pacifism while still giving us the believable characters of Elizabeth and Margaret. How she does that through the details and descriptions she includes is a study in writing.


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