With its moody, atmospheric cover, When the Whistle Blows may not be the first book boys and kids will reach for. Mr. E was skeptical when I first brought it home as our next read-together. But it didn’t take much convincing. As soon as I mentioned football championships, tricking the nasty school principal, and Halloween pranks gone awry, he was willing to give it a chance. Then we read the first chapter (we always read the first chapter and rank it from 1-10. Anything higher than a 6 from both of us gets a second chapter read). Chapter One was a secret society meeting with a corpse on All Hallow’s Eve! We were hooked.
Of course, that’s not all When the Whistle Blows is about. It’s also about a small railroad town on the brink of extinction with the coming of the diesel engines. It’s about a headstrong boy growing up. And mostly, it’s about a son learning to love and respect his father as a person. In fact, it was some of these deeper themes that made Mr. E stumble. He’s used to reading books with clear-cut obvious conflicts and goals: a quest to get the golden chalice!, defeat the evil villain and save the world as we know it!, solve the mystery before the clock runs out! When we finished When the Whistle Blows, Mr. E paused and said, “I liked it, but I don’t really get what that book was about. I mean, I know what Jimmy wanted in each chapter, but what was the point of the whole book?” And then we proceeded to have a wonderful conversation about characters and people changing and growing up. It was lovely. Thank you, Fran Cannon Slayton.