Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade: A Thanksgiving Story

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade
written by Trinka Hakes Noble; illustrated by David C. Gardner
2017 (Sleeping Bear Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

All you had to do was dress up like a beggar in old ragged clothes and parade down Broadway. For Rettie, dressing up was easy. She already had holes in her shoes and worn, patched clothes. 

Rettie lives in the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. Even though she's only nine years old, she is the oldest child in her family and carries quite a load. Her mother is bedridden with consumption and her father is fighting overseas in World War I. Rettie does all of the chores for her family of 5 and washes rags for the ragpicker to make money. This family needs every penny she can earn and Rettie pins her hopes on the annual Ragamuffin Parade on Thanksgiving where children walk down Broadway and scramble for pennies tossed from the watching crowd. As Rettie does the shopping for her family, signs of severe poverty are everywhere and also of the terrible influenza outbreak. Children are huddled in alleys as they have been left orphaned by the epidemic. People wear masks and vendors are scarce as many have been quarantined. Rettie manages to buy stale bread, cabbage, and a few mealy potatoes. Even the manager of her apartment building is stricken and ordered to stay inside. But this leads to an opportunity for Rettie to take on a cleaning job that will bring more money. Now she starts to work at four in the morning to earn enough to keep her family together. Good news comes in the form of the war ending in November 2018 and cold weather diminishing the effects of the epidemic. This means the parade will be held and Rettie can help her family even more.

So what does Thanksgiving represent to you? For this young lady, it was hope and gratitude. This story provides an opportunity to have a class discussion about Thanksgiving that goes deeper than paper turkeys and pilgrim hats. Does everyone have the same Thanksgiving? It might open some eyes. It's also a terrific history lesson that highlights life from a century ago. You could compare 1918 to almost 2018. The excellent artwork really sets the mood and provides information about the era. There aren't many bright colors here which is pitch perfect. Make sure you check out the Author's Note too. Another teaching possibility would be to do a character study of Rettie. What traits does she have? 2nd and 3rd graders, who are about Rettie's age, will be amazed at what she does to keep her family afloat. Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade is a great choice for a Thanksgiving read aloud.

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