Monday, October 17, 2022

129. The Jumping-Off Place

The Jumping-Off Place. Marian Hurd McNeely. Illustrated by William Siegel. 1929. 321 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Down on their knees, a boy and girl were taking up the kitchen linoleum. It was a queer time to be at that work--half past eight in the evening--and there was an air of strangeness about the house; an unusual silence, a hollowness and a fragrance of crushed flowers in the air. 

Premise/plot: Four kids (Becky, Joan, Phil, and Dick)--doubly orphaned, first by their parents and then their uncle-guardian--set off for Tripp County, South Dakota, in 1910 to homestead on their Uncle's filed claim. And this is to be accomplished almost always on their own. Yes, there are supportive adults who share advice and sometimes an extra pair of hands, but, hundred percent of the blood, sweat, and tears of farming/homesteading will be on these four youngsters. (The oldest is sixteen or seventeen.) The book chronicles about a year's worth of time--give or take a couple of weeks. We definitely go through [late] spring, summer, fall, winter, and the beginning of another spring. Becky, the oldest sibling, I believe, becomes a "teacher" of sorts in a one-room schoolhouse. She isn't certified, but, she's a) willing b) gone through school herself so she's educated enough to teach younger ones c) wanting to go to "normal college" to get her teacher's certificate. There is the almost obligatory chapter where a blizzard strands kids at school. 

My thoughts: This one was published in 1929. It was recognized with a Newbery Honor in 1930. This book was published half a decade (at least) before Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing her children's stories about the homesteading life. (Some of Wilder's books would be set in South Dakota, though decades earlier.) The 1910 setting is interesting. We've got some modern touches--the kids have lived in a city and had city conveniences before--but we've got hints of the older 'pioneer' lifestyle as well. To original readers, 1910 wouldn't have seemed all that "historical" in all likelihood. Today's readers will definitely consider it 'historical' in nature. Perhaps a bit quaint and dated, perhaps outdated. 

Anytime you have an older book, you'll always have people curious about the content and if it is problematic. This one has at least one instance of the n-word--just so you know that up front. It is in relation to working hard and long hours in the field. The children obviously didn't see anything wrong with this word as a descriptor. (Modern readers, if this book has any, may not agree.) There was not really a presence--or notable presence--of Native Americans or "Indians" in this one. You could argue that their absence from the story raises its own issues. But you won't find any scenes like in Little House On the Prairie. So one could definitely look for ways to talk about context and content with children if you're reading this one with children. 


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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