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When the Whistle Blows

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  395 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
Jimmy lives in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, during the 1940s. He does all the things boys do in the small mountain town: plays a mean game of football, pulls the unforgettable Halloween prank with his friends in ?the Platoon,? and promises to head off into the woods on the first day of hunting season? no matter what. He also knows his father belongs to a secret society, and ...more
Hardcover, 162 pages
Published June 11th 2009 by Philomel Books (first published March 24th 2009)
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Clare Cannon
Told in a perfect voice for a nostalgic mood that entrances the reader from the outset, this impressive and moving short novel is like a collection of short stories about the same main character, each one told on the same day each year for seven years. Each chapter gives a clear picture of how the main character has developed, together with his family and friends.

It's for mature readers, as there is consideration of loss and death and the way different people cope, or don't. It is implied that o
Roxanne Hsu Feldman
Judging by the somewhat muted and sleepy cover, I thought I was going to read a "pensive, quiet" coming-of-age, historical fiction. It turned out that the story is NOT all that quiet: every episode falls on an All Hallow's Eve from early-40s to late-40s. You get the thrill of the secret Society's weird, slightly off and scary way to honor a recently deceased member; you get the Halloween prank gone awry; you get the blood-pumping, almost heart-stopping football game actions; and you get the deat ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Set in the 1940's, a time of both great progress yet great despair, this novel gives readers a vivid and powerful view on the life of a boy trying to be a kid while being surrounded by adult problems.
Diane R. Chen
Feb 18, 2009 Diane R. Chen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: coming-of-age
Posted on SLJ's blog today:
When the Whistle Blows is a surprising first-novel that will especially appeal to your boys and young men. It is a growing up novel that includes scenes reminiscent of Richard Peck's Long Way from Chicago and has a classical mannerism that will steam its way on to state award lists all over the country.

Rituals at midnight. Launching cabbages at the enemy. Eerie cemetery scenes. Death. Humor. Families joining together to thwart the tyrants in charge. The joys of livin
Jan 25, 2009 Laura rated it liked it
Told through a series of stories about All Hallow's Eve in Rowlesburg WV, James Cannon's life appears to be set: he'll leave school and start working in the railyard, just like his older brothers, his father, his uncles and his forebears. By the time he's a senior in high school, though, diesel engines have replaced steam ones, and the railyard has closed down.

The other constant in his life is The Society, a mysterious group that he longs to join. In the last section, he's inducted - it's his fa
Suzanne Kerfin
Aug 01, 2009 Suzanne Kerfin rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-7, 8-young-adult
Beautifully written book (great voice and word choices) in the form of vignettes which tell what happened in a small Virginia town in the life of the main character who is a young boy. Each chapter chronicles Halloween day and night (the boy's father's birthday) in the 1940's. Main themes are family and the coming of age of this boy, as well as the steam engine railroader's life in a changing time.
I didn't really connect with some of the vignette stories (maybe too male or too related to the ra
Abby Johnson
Aug 26, 2009 Abby Johnson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: blogged
Told in vignettes set on All Hallow's Eve 1943-1949, this is the story of Jimmy Cannon, a boy determined to follow in his father's footsteps and be a railroad man in a small West Virginia town.

Beautiful writing brought the setting to life and I fell in love with the characters. I didn't think I liked vignettes, but I couldn't put this book down. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Richard Peck.

Full review on my blog:
Jan 05, 2010 Shelley rated it really liked it
Shelves: youth, historical
I like the set up of this - seven vignettes, each set on Halloween between 1943 and 1949. It was really interesting to see Jimmy mature from chapter to chapter, and the resulting growth of the characters around him as he learns to see them differently. I think it was well done. I realized afterward that she basically wrote her father's teenage years - didn't even change his name or town or ending. That somehow seems a bit like cheating, even though I know it's not really. *g*
Jan 15, 2010 Jan marked it as to-read
Allison recommends:

Such a wonderful book- warm and full of heart. You would think the vignette format would make this easy to put down between chapters, but I just couldn't stop reading. The sense of nostalgia for youth in a bygone era may be appreciated more by adults than teens, but there is enough humor and action to capture a younger reader's interest.
Ms. Albert
Nov 08, 2016 Ms. Albert rated it liked it
This story is reminiscent of a past time, when a kid could escape his house in the middle of the night and go running down the center of the main street in town, looking for a secret meeting of a secret society, so he could figure out what all that was about. Jimmy's not a bad kid; he's a pretty typical adolescent, with his own gang which reeks Halloween havoc on his small town in his own ornery way. By the way, you have to read the whole story to find out what The Society is about, but you will ...more
Jun 29, 2012 Shel rated it it was amazing
Slayton, F.C. (2009). When the Whistle Blows. New York: Philomel Books.


162 pages.

Appetizer: Rooted in the history of 1940s Rowlesburg, West Virginia, this fictional story shares how Jimmy spends each All Hallows' Eve starting with the year he's twelve or thirteen to the time he's about eighteen or nineteen. Over the years, Jimmy and his friends and family deal with the loss of a loved one, seek revenge for a prank, battle for a day off of school, and compete in an intense football g
Mary Ann
Sep 06, 2009 Mary Ann rated it it was amazing
Sneaking to watch your father's secret society meeting. Launching rotten cabbages at high school bullies. Running through an eerie cemetery in the middle of the night. These are the makings of a great book to read with your sons. Fran Slayton's debut novel, When the Whistle Blows, is a compelling coming-of-age story that will appeal to a wide range of boys and their families - I highly recommend it.

Jimmy Cannon grows up surrounded by the boys and men of his small West Virginia railroad town - hi
Jan 01, 2009 Scope rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
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, figurin
Steph Su
Sep 04, 2009 Steph Su rated it liked it
Shelves: debs09
If you like historical fiction coming-of-age vignettes, you can’t do any better than Fran Cannon Slayton’s debut, WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS. While it’s not the kind of fiction I usually enjoy, the voice, characters, setting, and stories are really all delightful.

The synopsis heavily emphasizes Jimmy’s relationship with his father, but really, that theme is rather a gentle undercurrent throughout that builds into a touching ending. I enjoyed every vignette, one for every Halloween between 1943 and 1
Oct 17, 2009 Rachael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The railroads run in the Cannon family’s veins. That’s why Jimmy is so sure that’s where he’s be working when he grows up, no matter how much his father demands otherwise. Jimmy feels his future is all set, especially since his father is the foreman of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and both his older brothers have quit school to work there too. All there’s left to do is wait while he grows up. But as much as Jimmy would like to think everything will stay the way it is, change is indeed comin ...more
Kay Mcgriff
Jul 23, 2011 Kay Mcgriff rated it really liked it
Growing up in the hills of West Virginia, all Jimmy Cannon wants is to work on the railroad just like his dad and older brothers. Dad, however, warns that change is coming. Soon the steam engines whose whistles pierce the air will be replaced with deisels. Once the deisels come, Rowlesburg will no longer be a railroad town. Jimmy can’t see it, and he just wants things to stay the way they’ve always been.

Fran Cannon Slayton creates an interesting structure for When the Whistle Blows (Scholastic 2
When the Whistle Blows is a unique story that takes place deep in Appalachian West Virginia. It has a unique set, since each chapter tells a story about what is happening in Jimmy's life every Halloween. Therefore, each chapter takes place on a Halloween night on different years. It was a very neat concept.

Slayton did an excellent job at capturing the character of rural Appalachia. My husband is from that area, and I can testify that not a whole lot has changed from 1940's West Virginia to curr
Jan 20, 2010 Rachel rated it it was ok
This slow and nostalgic book gives the reader a glimpse into the world of a small West Virginia town in the 1940’s. Jimmy Cannon wants nothing more than to work on the railroad like his father and older brothers, but his dad is determined to make sure that doesn’t happen. Written as a coming of age story we follow Jimmy as he grows up and learns to deal with life’s challenges including death, disappointment and uncontrollable change. Each chapter is a different year in Jimmy’s life but every sto ...more
Oct 19, 2011 Mary marked it as to-read
School Library Journal (June 1, 2009)
Gr 6-10-Linked stories set on seven consecutive All Hallows' Eves, from 1943 through 1949, relate Jimmy Cannon's teenage years in Rowlesburg, WV. Central to his story are his two older brothers, his friends, and especially his father, a formidable figure in a long succession of Cannon men who have worked for the B&O railroad. Why then, does Dad insist that Jimmy must not follow in his own footsteps? And what is his father's role in the secretive and myste
Books and Literature for Teens
When the Whistle Blows is mixture of historical fiction, small town memories, and the final years of the stream engine.
It was actually pretty good historical fiction material, but to me it was more of a coming of age story (or even memoir) and reminded me a lot of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The story takes place on All Hollow's Eve (Halloween) starting the year
of 1943 and ending with Jim's final memory of his father in 1949. Throughout those final six years with his father
Miz Lizzie
Fran Cannon Slayton has translated her memories of her father’s stories growing up in Rowlesburg, West Virgina in the last days of the steam engines on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the 1940s into an episodic coming of age story. Jimmy Cannon is the youngest of three boys and has dreamed all his life of becoming a railroad man like his father (and, soon, his older brothers). His taciturn father discourages this ambition as he sees change coming in the new diesel engine. Each Hallow’s Eve, ...more
Oct 01, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it
Set in the 1940s, the reader is taken for a non-stop ride into this fabulous coming-of-age story. The book centers around the life of a young boy who lives, breaths, and eats trains. Told in form of vignettes, the reader gets a snap shot in each chapter of a day in Jimmy's life from 1943 until 1949. One interesting aspect is that they are always on a particular day -- All Hallows Eve, which also happens to be his father's birthday. This fascinating novel gives the reader a glimpse into a time an ...more
Book Concierge
A coming-of-age story set in a Rowlesburg WV from 1943 to 1949. The Cannon men have always worked on the steam engines at the Baltimore & Oriole railroad. Jimmy can hardly wait to grow up and take his turn as a machinist. His father keeps warning his boys that the era of the steam engine is coming to an end and that a good education will give them more options, but Jimmy’s older brothers – Bill and Mike both quit school at sixteen to work on the engines.

The book shines a light on boyhood –
Jan 20, 2011 Andy rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2-star
Slayton conveys the bittersweet passage of time in this debut historical fiction novel. Each chapter represents a different year between 1943 and 1949, and tells the short story of a day in the life of Jimmy Cannon. Jimmy grows up in small town Rowlesburg, West Virginia, the son of a railroad man. Jimmy struggles to understand his strict and mysterious father, at the same time his father, William Patrick, grapples with his own issues including failing health and the death of the steam engine. Ea ...more
Jennifer Wardrip
Jan 31, 2009 Jennifer Wardrip rated it it was amazing
Reviewed by Joan Stradling for

WHEN THE WHISTLE BLOWS follows Jimmy Cannon through four years of his life in the railroad town of Rowlesburg, West Virginia. Jimmy grows up before the reader's eyes as he struggles to come to terms with his changing world.

From Halloween pranks, to football games, to secret societies, Jimmy rushes through life like one of the steam trains he loves.

But the lessons he learns will stay in his mind and heart long after the train whistle is silent. And
Erin Forson
Nov 29, 2011 Erin Forson rated it liked it
When the Whistle Blows
by Fran Cannon Slayton
Rowlesberg is a small town where it's easy to get in trouble—at least that is, for Jimmy and his friends. They spend nights wreaking havoc on the local sheriff and upperclassmen, and days sneaking around gathering clues and ammunition that fuel their nighttime activities. This fabulous novel goes from one Halloween to another in the life of Jimmy and his family. Of course, the fact that each event takes place on such a spooky holiday lends to its suspe
Oct 30, 2009 Jordan rated it really liked it
I am finding it hard to put my feelings for this book into words. I thought it was an a amazing book! One thing that I can point out that I absolutely adored was the way that the book was written. The story takes place in West Virginia many years ago and I am not sure if they still talk that way now but back then they had some improper language. And Im not talking about cursing, though I am sure they did that too, but it was just the way they talked. For instance they say dagburn a WHOLE lot thr ...more
Tami Traylor
Nov 16, 2010 Tami Traylor rated it it was amazing
This was a touching, almost bittersweet glimpse into the seasons of one young boy's coming of age in a small, Railroad town in post WWII West Virginia. I thought it was incredibly creative of the author, to write each chapter as a day-in-the-life (Oct 31 to be exact) of subsequent years in the protagonist's life. At first glance, it reads like a collection of short stories, but looking deeper, one finds a strong continuity in the protagonist, Jimmy, and his relationship with his father and other ...more
Jun 01, 2009 Angela rated it really liked it
Shelves: middle-grade
A debut not-to-be-missed!

It's about trains and troubles, boys, uncles, dads, and friends, all woven into the fabric of strong family traditions.

These short vignettes of Jimmy Cannon's life leave the reader wanting to know more about the characters in this West Virginia town where men live and die by the railroad. Fran strikes a balance between the irresponsibility of boyhood, the importance of sticking together and the meaning of the phrase, "one good turn" in a sad, but gentle story of growing
Aug 23, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
Shelves: j-fiction, ya
From 1943 through 1949, Jimmy Cannon chronicles the steps of his coming-of-age over a series of All Hallows' Eves in Rowlesburg, West Virginia, a railroad town killed by the coming of diesel engines.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but I have difficulty imagining a middle or high school student picking it up on his or her own. It's the sort of thing you might teach in an eighth grade English classroom, providing lots of opportunities for good discussion - both of the setting (and economic
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Fran Cannon Slayton spent her childhood growing up in Manassas and Haymarket, Virginia. She was a mean unicycle rider and pogo stick hopper, and prided herself as an all-around terror on the kickball field. Other favorite pastimes included exploding caps (with or without the use of a magnifying glass), catching salamanders with her bare hands, and using them as bait when she went fishing.

In high s
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