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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Charley, an historical fiction by Donna Marie Seim

Armed with knowledge and experience, local author Donna Seim has written a number of books for children. Her most recent, Charley, captivated me as it is a story of a middle-school-aged boy living over a century ago in Boston, the city where I grew up over half a century ago. The cover of the book initially caught my eye, with the lines of laundry hanging between tenement houses in Boston at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. The cap on his head is so similar to the one my dad always wore and probably had worn at Charley's age. The character is based on family recollections of their dad and granddad.Charlie would have been about fifteen years older than my dad ... and no doubt living in the same part of Boston.

Charley is a street-kid. He'd hop the trolley cars when he needed to get somewhere in a hurry. He'd sneak into the neighborhood bakery to swipe sweets when his stomach and those of his friends were empty. He'd bring stolen bread home to his younger sister, older brother and their father when he could.

Donna Seim captures the colloquialisms of urban children of the streets. She describes succinctly the physical settings in the City of Boston (as my father always referred to it as such.) She understands and depicts clearly the emotional turmoil and loyalty to to each other of children who have grown up and suffered the loss of first one parent, and then the other. The stories of these children are familiar to her, as she has worked as a social worker with families living such stories.

Charley loses, again and again, people he loves. He is taken in by the Home for Little Wanderers in Boston (which, in later years, was a parochial grammar school that I attended, still bearing the stonework carving of that name from those years as an orphanage.) He then loses again, as his young sister is placed with a Boston well to-do-family, and then his young brother is sent to a farm family many miles west of Boston, and then loses yet again the new relationships he has forged in the orphanage when he himself is sent to live with a family in Maine. 

Charley does have some blessings in his life, and one is his remarkable Irish voice. Charley can sing like his own dad sang ... and like my own dad did, too. And he is a likable sort, easy to make friends and eager to find fun with them, either on the streets of Boston or on the farm in Maine. 

Charley's story is believable because it is based on real people, in a setting so very real to me. I was mesmerized by Seim's ability to recapture those memories that lay nearly forgotten in my own past. The book is so well written, and so carefully and concisely illustrated by Susan Spellman, that people who hadn't grown up on those city streets can still envision them through Charley's eyes. I give five stars for this wonderful book, and am happy to learn that some middle schools are beginning to add it to their recommended reading lists for ages 8 to 12. I believe many older readers will enjoy it as well. 

Thank you, Donna Seim, for this treasure of a book!