When the Whistle Blows
By Fran Cannon Slayton
Philomel Books
ISBN: 9780399251894
Grades 5-8
In Stores June 11, 2009

*Best New Books*

Monday, Jan. 19 – I sit here, looking at When the Whistle Blows. I’m not sure what to make of it. It looks like it might be for a slightly older reader than my comfort zone includes. Reading the various blurbs on and in the slim volume, it looks like it’s about a small town where the lifeblood is the railroad. It’s been a while since I read a good historical novel. I’ll give it a shot.

Monday, Jan. 26 – I’ll have some down time today, so I’ll get a chance to read. I grab When the Whistle, figuring now is as good a time as any to give it a go. I read the first chapter and keep on going. It’s a good first chapter. James (Jimmy) Cannon and his older brother Mike sneak out in the middle of the night and witness the meeting of a secret society. Jessie is surprised to find that both his father and oldest brother, Bill, are members. Bill has already followed their father to work for the local rail company, and Mike has his sights set on the same plan. Not that any of this flatters old Mr. Cannon. He’s been saying for as long as Jimmy can remember that the new diesel trains are coming to Rowlesburg, West Virginia, to put them all out of work.

Monday, Feb. 2 – It’s weird, I’m taking my time with this one. The jacket proclaims similarities to Jack London and Robert Lewis Stevenson, but the humor and setting make me think of Richard Peck.  In fact, the author even has a quote inside the front cover – not a bad endorsement. The format is very Peck-esque. Each chapter takes place on Halloween (or All Hallows Eve), jumping ahead one year each time. The day is special because it is Jimmy’s father’s birthday. Each chapter works as a short story, but the larger story arc runs throughout. Some chapters, like when the students (and The Society) fight back against a new principal who’s determined to hold class on the first day of hunting season, are funny and mischievous. Others, like when Bill is believed to be on a wrecked train, pack a more weighty punch. All of them are well written, absorbing, and memorable.

Monday, Feb. 9 – I’m getting to the core of the book. When the emotion comes, it’s sudden and strong. Turns out Mr. Cannon was right – Rowlesburg is withering as new diesel trains make many old rail jobs obsolete. Jimmy, his heart set on the family profession, is at a loss for what to do next. Who can’t identify with that feeling? A major event results in a meeting of The Society – this time with a new member.

Monday, Feb. 16 – I sit here, looking at When the Whistle Blows, thinking of how to review it. Then I get an idea: make the review like the book. Small parts, adding to a conclusion. For me, Slayton’s debut will be an ’09 standout.

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Find the book at your local library with WorldCat.