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Reviewed by Donna Gielow McFarland for Readers' Favorite
King of the Hill: A Child’s Personal History of the Great Depression by Nelda Bedford Gaydou is a collection of family stories from the Great Depression. It follows the adventures of Benji, the youngest of eleven children, and his share-cropping family as they move from place to place, looking for work in the southwestern United States. Benji picks cotton at age five, drives farm equipment (run by horses) at age seven, and drives a truck at the age of nine. In the midst of hard work, Benji enjoys playing games like Red Rover and King of the Hill with other children. Occasionally he goes to school. His close-knit family survives on labor, thrift and ingenuity. Charming pencil sketches, an appropriate medium for the topic, illustrate each chapter. The drawings would serve as even better illustrations if they were placed in the midst of the chapter where the action occurs rather than before the chapter heading.
King of the Hill contains a lengthy selection of multiple choice study guide questions for grades 3-8. Reading the book, I felt it would be most appropriate for children in grades 1-6, although the reading level would be too difficult for the youngest students to read for themselves. The study questions are well done. Nelda Bedford Gaydou’s depiction of what life was like for Benji in the 1930s is an eye-opener and a stunning contrast to modern childhood. It is hard to even imagine giving kids the responsibilities they were entrusted with in the past. Reading King of the Hill could lead to lively and enthusiastic classroom discussions.