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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

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  5,288 Ratings  ·  1,217 Reviews
Story of hard times, high spirits on an Iowa farm during the great depression.
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2007)
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Rating details
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Jonathan Ashleigh
Nov 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: farm-shelf, recent
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
Jan 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: midwest
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
Virginia Messina
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 17, 2008 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
May 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Pamela by: Kim
Shelves: farm-life
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
Feb 06, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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
Jan 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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!

An important reminder that the land I'm living on was a very different experience just a few generations back. And I really like this author's voice -- more critical, less saccharine, than I expected. She taught English at the UI at one point in her career.
Clif Hostetler
Nov 16, 2010 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
Dec 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-bio

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,
Maudeen Wachsmith
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it

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
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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,
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 11, 2007 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 23, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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! :)
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful stories! It seemed like the author was sitting right next to me telling me about her life!
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
This family never bought anything from the store, which is difficult and exciting to imagine. Of course, it took them all day to do chores and make dinner. This book is not written chronologically, but as a collection of small memories and pieces of information. My favorite parts are the description of "wash day" and all it took for the simple act of washing clothes and linens (they wore the same clothes all week!), and the many descriptions of the gathering and making of food, from 8 year-olds ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I grew up in the 50s and 60s, a frequent weekend, summer and holiday visitor to my aunts, uncles and cousins who lived on farms around Faribault, Owatonna and Mankato in southern Minnesota. While Little Heathens presents an earlier, 1930s depression era, the farm scenes I remember from these visits are very similar to those depicted in the book. A "city girl" I recall being awed by the sheer expanse of space on the farms, the fields that began so close to the house and ended somewhere I never co ...more
Joan Concilio
Oct 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
This book, recommended by Chris, was an excellent and relaxing vacation read.
Erica Verrillo
Oct 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 29, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Doreen Fritz
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A DIY masterpiece, this book is the memoir of a woman raised during the Depression on a farm in north central Iowa. Now in her mid-to-late 80's, I was amazed at the level of detail she managed (names of school teachers, neighbors, stories, recipes, and so on). And the whole time I was reading, I kept thinking about stories I had heard my own mother tell about her childhood on various farms in western Illinois. Chamberpots, laundry day with water carried in, big meals for farm workers, using your ...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: little heathens 1 5 Apr 22, 2012 11:35AM  
I stayed hungry 2 57 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.” 26 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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