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Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
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Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,680 Ratings  ·  1,124 Reviews
I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone. For many years I have had the urge to describe that treasure trove, lest it vanish forever. So, partly in response to the basic human instinct to share feelings and experiences, and partly for the sheer joy and excitement of it all, I report on my early life. It was quite a romp.

So begins Mildred Kalish’s story of gro
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Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jonathan Ashleigh
Growing up on a farm was a tough thing to do, but while people had it rough — they made it work, and they were generally happy to do so. This high-spirited account of life during the depression was enjoyable in the beginning but slowly lost steam and, while during the depression, was not hard living compared with dust-bowl literature. They were frugal and did not have much but that was the way of life for a large family on a farm — depression or no depression. They were extremely self sufficient ...more
Sonia Reppe
This IS like listening to your grandma (or that old lady in the Titanic movie) telling in a gentle, slow-cadenced voice, about the old days. Some topics covered are thrift, medicine, chores, farm food, gathering wood, and wash day. The book starts off entertaining, but like Grandma (or Grandpa) it gets long-winded; and you start to feel bored and restless and wonder how much more you are willing to sit through before you make the move for your coat. You might decide that next time she repeats "w ...more
Ginny Messina
Mildred Kalish's memoir of life on a farm during the Depression is packed with fascinating experiences and observations. I loved the content, but was not crazy about her writing style, which often sounded to me like a transcription of an oral history. But Kalish, a former English professor, does, in fact, know how to tell a story (and share a recipe and give instructions on cleaning a sink). She's friendly and chatty, and intersperses her observations with lots of (very definite) opinions and a ...more
Erin
Oct 17, 2008 Erin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: (I wouldn't)
The man at the cool little SF bookstore where I bought this book highly recommended it, so I was pretty excited about reading it. I liked it at the beginning, but as it went on I disliked it more and more by the page. The old woman who wrote the book had a serious age-based superiority complex, and gets heavier and heavier on phrases like "these days, people don't know about..." or "today's Xs don't even compare to what we had back then..." or "young people today don't understand hard work" etc ...more
Pamela
May 18, 2016 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Pamela by: Kim
One way to take the measure of community is to listen in on its use of language: the folksy sayings that knit us together, the colloquialisms that inform, guide, chastise, amuse, and entertain us."

This quiet and quaint memoir was a lovely nod toward the "good old days" through the author's reminiscences of her childhood years on an Iowa farm. Anyone who grew up during that time period - or in a farming community or rural America - will surely identify with Kalish's leisure stroll down memory l
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Alison Looney
If I were looking at this from a literary perspective, I'd probably knock it down another star. The writing isn't great; the back-in-my-day tone in particular gets irritating. Most of the narrative focuses on farm chores, but the epilogue alludes to a far more interesting story about the author's experiences during the war. Maybe another book is forthcoming?

I think it is useful as a historical book, though. It's strange to think how much life has changed in just two generations, and this book do
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Maya
Dec 31, 2007 Maya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-2007
I loved this book, and I hope all the people I gave it to as a Christmas present love it, too!

Reading through some of the reviews here, I notice that some people are irked by the folksy, chatty style of the author. I found it charming--maybe it sounds like you're sitting around talking to grandma. So what? Perhaps because I never got to sit around and talk to grandma about the good ol' days myself (and if I had, my grandmothers' "good ol'days" would have sounded nothing like this), I have a high
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FlibBityFLooB
Admittedly, I may be a bit biased in my feelings of this book being that I grew up in Iowa, but I think this was certainly very interesting and educational non-fiction regardless. Reading this book reminded me of my Great Great Aunt Ruth who was born in 1896 and lived to the ripe age of 99 in small town Fredericksburg, Iowa. I used to love sitting with her and asking questions about life at the beginning of the 1900s. I heard stories of carriages, party-phones, death of children from disease, on ...more
Kirsti
Jan 19, 2009 Kirsti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: nonfiction fans
This sounds like a dreadful idea . . . retired English teacher writes her first book, an account of her rural childhood. The only reason I picked it up was the rave review in the New York Times. What a fabulous memoir. Her writing is utterly clear, and the events, both everyday and extraordinary, are fascinating.

In a nutshell: May baskets, outhouses, taming wild horses, treating puncture wounds (don't go up the house to tell the adults, because they won't care--just go to the barn and put some c
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Joanne
Feb 06, 2008 Joanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I was surprised to see this book on the New York Times' list of Best Books of 2007: it's Midwestern AND it's by a woman. Glory be.

Anyway, this is a cross between reading an updated _Little House on the Prairie_ and sitting at my grandparents' respective tables listening to their stories about growing up. There's a lot of wonderful description of nature and school and how to do things on the farm. There's a little less than I would like of the author's introspection or reflection on relationships
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Heidi
Dec 14, 2008 Heidi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-books
I enjoyed this book so much that my hubby is now reading it. It is a memoir of a woman that takes place during the depression. It describes daily life for the author who is a child during these years. It could be read as short stories because the chapters don't really build on each other. I am really excited to try a couple of the recipes that she gives in the book. For not having very much money, it seemed to me that they had a lot more than what we have today. In the way of a community and bec ...more
Amy
Although, I didn't always enjoy Mildred's writing style, I loved what she said! This is a history of Mildred's life, growing up in the 1930's.

This should be required reading for all middle / high school students. Today's kids (n general) have no idea how easy they have it!

When I was in Jr. Hi., Mr. McNickel, my science teacher, used to say his family had 3 rooms and a path (in the olden days) instead of 3 rooms and a bath! LOL! I thought of this "tale" throughout the book!

I loved the recipes!

Use
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Melee
Dec 10, 2011 Melee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-bio
YES!!! I FOUND IT!

This is yet another book I read years ago and then forgot the title of. For some reason, I got a bee in my bonnet today to find it. The library website was no help, but as I thought about searchable plot points of this book, I realized that a snippet of a sentence from this book was imprinted in my brain. With slight trepidation and a few giggles, I typed the fragment into google. To my great astonishment, my remembered snippet was word perfect! Want to know what is was? Well,
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Clif Hostetler
Nov 19, 2010 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This is a happy memoir. It’s sort of a latter day “Little House on the Prairie,” but intended for adults. There are no sour grapes (or grapes of wrath) dredged up here. And contrary to the subtitle, the childhood remembered here was well insulated from the hard times of the depression. The rural life depicted here was on a mortgage free farm owned by her grandfather. Though land rich, they were cash poor. So they needed to be self sufficient to the extent possible. But frugality was second natur ...more
Maudeen Wachsmith
Aug 27, 2007 Maudeen Wachsmith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition



I delved into this book with great anticipation. The author is only a few years younger than my mother and the area she writes about in rural Iowa is just 50 miles east of where my grandfather was born.




There were many things to like in this book that combines anecdotes from the 1930s with recipes and how to do things the old way. I enjoyed the anecdotes and would have enjoyed the book if it had been sprinkled with less of the recipes and more of the stories from the 1930s--stories which ranged
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KDee
Sep 15, 2009 KDee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oh the despair I felt as my eyes reluctantly devoured the last page of this book. Functioning as my stationary bike companion for weeks, I fell in love with the simplicity and wisdom of Mildred's childhood.

I could go on for hours about this book. I felt a kinship to the author simply due to the manner in which I grew up. My grandparents were dairy farmers. Their ideals, morals and ethics were drilled so deeply into my mother that no matter how hard she tried, she still imbued them onto us childr
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Margaret
Jan 14, 2009 Margaret rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Who says you can't go home again. There it all was. I was born ten years after the time of this book, and my mother was graduating from Iowa State University and starting a teaching career in 1935, but I really enjoyed reading about life then. I grew up in Western Iowa, had farming relatives, knew the old retired farmers who had "moved into town" and separated milk, used the wringer washer, shelled corn, etc. at my grandparents farm in the summers. So I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and also Ka ...more
Annie
Oct 24, 2007 Annie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i am really torn about how to review this book partially because the 85 year old author's photo on the back flap is so damn cute. plus she's old and i really think the book was mainly written for her family and to get a bunch of memories down on paper. however: the writing was kind of painful and contained a lot of cliched, old person sayings. had some interesting info on farm life during the 1930s, but not as much as i was hoping, and too many family remembrances without fully flushed out chara ...more
Jeanoc
Sep 12, 2007 Jeanoc rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Disappointing after reading positive reviews. Writing was poor. Parts were interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the author seemed to think they were! Kent looked up reviews and they were all by people in their 20's and 30's. For us boomers and older there really wasn't much unique about the author's experiences and they weren't enlivened by any kind of narrative to draw the reader along.
I hardly dare mention Annie Dillard's An American Childhood in the same breath. My favorite book abou
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Shirley
Nov 01, 2008 Shirley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading about how my family lived in this era. Even though my family lived in Indiana lives were the same in county-living.

The recipes were a nice add to the book. Again, same recipes were used here in Indiana by my family.

Too bad there weren't any pictures to go along with the book.

I enjoyed the story telling of Mrs. Kalish. It wasn't fancy just plain good reading.

Not everyone will like this book. I have recommended it for our December bookclub meeting.
Jana
Sep 05, 2014 Jana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book! I'm from Iowa, and my parents are about the same age as the author, so I could definitely relate to most of her experiences. Even though I've never lived on a farm, my hometown was small enough to allow me similar experiences. I'm giving this to my mom and brother to read! Thank you, Carla, for the book! :)
Kim
Apr 19, 2016 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
I enjoyed this book because it brought to mind parts of my own life. My parents would have grown up about the same time as Mildred. I heard their stories, and those of my grandparents who did live through the Depression of the 1930s, so I was familiar with some of the situations of which she told. Their upbringing was a big influence on how my sisters and I were raised. I also had numerous relatives that lived on farms, and I remember visiting them, and being aware of much that Mildred mentioned ...more
Havebooks Willread
Aug 02, 2015 Havebooks Willread rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, historical
This book was delightful. I enjoyed it very much. I think Mildred's voice makes the book as she reflects on her childhood in Iowa in the 1930s. She shares how her upbringing "built character, fed the intellect, and stirred the imagination" while sharing stories of living off the land and managing relationships with relatives. I enjoyed the way she thoroughly explained the process of many practices such as harvesting nuts, collecting a swarm of bees, using natural healing remedies, and taming wil ...more
Jenben8426
Jan 20, 2011 Jenben8426 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club, adult
I really, really enjoyed this book! This is the non-fiction memoir of Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a young girl growing up on a rural farm in Iowa during the Great Depression. Being a history major in college I am fascinated by the people behind the scenes--those that weren't necessarily in the thick of things. I absolutely loved reading how this small family lived and worked their way through hard times--and really those times became "quite a romp." The way that Kalish writes is a delight and the ...more
Lisa
Nov 04, 2013 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

Let me just say, I love the first chapter of Little Heathens.
I think I would have liked the book better if it were billed differently. The title lead me to think I would be reading stories about children living on a farm in the depression. The first chapter propped up this expectation, starting what looked like a chronology: "My childhood came to a virtual halt when I was around five years old." Great first line, I was hooked! Talk of a banished father and stoic grandparents made me eager. Th
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Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 Erica Verrillo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine that you are having a delighful conversation with your grandma, sitting before a cozy fire, while she feeds you warm applesauce cake fresh from the oven. She tells stories of how the Little Kids and the Big Kids got together one Fourth of July and practically blew themselves and the house up by stuffing explosives down a lead pipe. She tells you how Old Man Mealhouse tricked the outhouse tippers one dark Hallowe'en with messy consequences, and how during cold winter nights she snuggled u ...more
Inder
Not the best memoir on the planet, but absolutely, completely delightful. Packed with funny stories, recipes, cleaning techniques, and tidbits of Depression-era farm life. I enjoyed this more than I expected, and it is right up my alley.

Mildred (Millie) Armstrong (Kalish) is one of those people who remembers what it's like to be a kid in vibrant, hilarious detail. Her stories reminded me of my own childhood. Some things are universal: bullying, cliques, fart jokes.

One thing that really struck m
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Spuddie
Apr 06, 2010 Spuddie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A meandering tale told by a woman who grew up on a farm in Iowa in the 1930's. She tells stories about her childhood, the hard work done on the farm, with neatly divided chapters that address various aspects of life including the chores and farmwork, schooling, church life, various farm animals and gardening, holidays, etc. The entire book is suffused with the common way of thought during the Depression--doing without, substituting other things where possible, recycling and using things for many ...more
Anna
Mar 05, 2015 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish

Although I rarely read nonfiction, this book reminded me so much of the stories my mother told me about growing up before and during the Depression. Like Millie ,those farm kids were tough and resourceful. I really enjoyed the parts about attending school, chores, and pastimes. It's a wonderful look back at an interesting time. I wish I had listened more to Mama.
Rita
Jun 04, 2015 Rita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My fellow librarian and friend, Vicki, recommended this book to me because she knew that I grew up on a farm with 10 brothers and sisters, not during the Great Depression, but in the 50s. This book brought back so many memories! We, too, were expected to work hard for the good of the family, but we also had some very good times. This book was laugh-out-loud funny and I loved her candor and wit. I went on Novelist to find books like this one and found several which I requested from my library. A ...more
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Mildred Kalish is a retired professor of English who grew up in Garrison, Iowa, and taught at several colleges, including the University of Iowa, Adelphi University, and Suffolk Community College. She now lives with her husband in northern California.
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“Without knowing it, the adults in our lives practiced a most productive kind of behavior modification. After our chores and household duties were done we were give "permission" to read. In other words, our elders positioned reading as a privilege - a much sought-after prize, granted only to those goodhardworkers who earned it. How clever of them.” 24 likes
“There was a saying in our family that no one ever died; people just dried up, were hung on a hook, and conducted their affairs from there.” 3 likes
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