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

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  3,854 ratings  ·  1,027 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...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2007)
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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara KingsolverAll Creatures Great and Small by James HerriotFarm City by Novella CarpenterThe Dirty Life by Kristin KimballHit by a Farm by Catherine Friend
Down on the Farm
8th out of 89 books — 146 voters
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Best Books of 2007
126th out of 572 books — 643 voters


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Community Reviews

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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 2 of 5 stars
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
Maya
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...more
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 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Joanne
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...more
Heidi
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
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...more
Annie
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
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...more
Melee
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,...more
Kellidee
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...more
Margaret
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
Jeanoc
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...more
Shirley
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.
Jenben8426
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
Erica Verrillo
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
Maudeen Wachsmith



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...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...more
Spuddie
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
Amatullah Richard
Delightful book about growing up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. Even though it was a strict, difficult upbringing with an absent father, Kalish is able to highlight the warm memories and advantages of her childhood. As an Iowan she brought back many warm memories of my grandparents and the work ethic we were raised to live. Kalish, her mom, and her siblings were enveloped by an extended family after her parents divorced. In many ways the book highlights the advantages of extended f...more
Suzanne Young
I found this to be a delightfully dramatized "how to" book. It brought back memories of my growing up on a farm in Rhode Island, except my era was the 50's and 60's. "Waste not, want not" was also an often-used phrase in our home.

I thought much of this book's contents could be used by urban farmers of today who are replacing lawns with kitchen gardens (or sharing city plots). Lots of good ideas for planting, conserving and recycling, in addition to clever cleaning materials and some great recip...more
Diane
I simply adored this book. It's a memoir about growing up on an Iowa farm during the Depression. My grandparents were farming in Iowa at that time, so I was curious to read more about it.

Despite being "land poor" -- the family owned land but had very little money -- the author said she enjoyed her childhood. She loved being outdoors and living in a small town where everybody knows everything about everyone, and she always felt safe.

The book is smartly divided into chapters of differing topics,...more
Leslie
Kind of reminiscent of the foxfire series that chronicles the "old timey" way of doing things in Appalachia - just a hell of a lot more entertaining. This book is set in Iowa in the thirties mostly - and if you like reading about self sufficiency and farm life this book is very good. I did get a little bit tired of "waste not want not," and it wasn't the most suspenseful book in the world, but overall a good read with some laugh out loud moments. I really am interested in trying some of the many...more
Stephanie
This was a wonderful memoir. A woman recounts her childhood growing up on the family farm in Iowa. Instead of telling tales, she tells what people used to do on a daily, monthly and yearly basis to "get by". Very rarely was money ever spent, rather, everything was made, reused, or done without. Instead of a trip to a dentist over a toothache, carbolic acid was carefully applied to the pain. Imagine making your own marshmellows. Mildred Kalish tells you how. I especially like reading the part whe...more
Amy
Okay, so this book is really poorly written, mentions the same anecdotes repeatedly, and is generally like listening to a boring relative. I cannot believe it was written by a former English professor. But, she did have some advice about how to clean countertops and porcelain, which works beautifully. Here is what you do:

Equal parts of Bon Ami and Baking Soda sprinkled on the surface to be cleaned. Sprinkle enough hydrogen peroxide to make a paste. Spread it around on the surface and let it sit...more
DW
I read this book because my grandmother loved it and recommended it. I think Grandma probably liked it because she herself grew up in the 1930s in Iowa, so I'm sure she recognized a lot of material in the book.

I thought the book was an interesting contrast with the Little House books, which I loved as a child and reread as an adult. The stories in the books are not that different, though Mildred's family did have a few more mechanical aids than Laura's did (a machine to separate cream, a hand-pu...more
Courtney
I thought there was a lot of great information in this book. It would be a great survival guide. That being said, the constant "people now days would know NOTHING about this" attitude got a little old. I think Kalish would be surprised at just how much we are totally aware of. Maybe my 11 year old doesn't know about the depression in detail yet, but as an adult, I felt like I was being talked down to. I wasn't born yesterday and darn it, I can make bread from scratch :)
Shirley
I really enjoyed this book because of its straightforward, down home style, reminiscent of the author's Iowa farm background. Our book group had a great discussion of how our life was on the farm, or in the city, as the case may be. It was an easy read, and well worth reading. It would be an eye opener for anyone born after 1960. Although there are still a few places that resemble this Iowa farm country nowdays...they are disappering fast.
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I stayed hungry 2 56 Feb 25, 2009 01:56PM  
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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.” 20 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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