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Sawdust in His Shoes by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
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Sawdust in His Shoes (original 1950; edition 2018)

by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Author)

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4511398,856 (4.79)1
Orphaned at fifteen, star bareback rider Joe Lang soon falls into an Oregon farm where he finds happiness but, always an outsider, dreams of going home to the circus.
Member:EvaMarieR
Title:Sawdust in His Shoes
Authors:Eloise Jarvis McGraw (Author)
Info:Plough Publishing House (2018), Edition: Reprint, 278 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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Sawdust in His Shoes by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (1950)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This review and others posted over at my blog.

I won a copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for my honest review.

I didn’t know until after finishing this book that it was actually written in 1950; that explains the authenticity, but it doesn’t feel dry like some older texts have the tendency to do (at least for me).

When I threw my name in the hat for this book, I was looking for a change of pace. Y’all know I love me some middle-grade and I usually drift towards the fantastical. It was time to dip into something a little different.

I obviously didn’t grow up in the 50s (or whenever this book was set – maybe it was earlier, I’m not sure), but the language and tone of the book felt realistic. There’s even a glossary in the back, “Talk of the Big Top”, which helpfully explains some of the terms like candy butcher (not as grim as it sounds), gillie and windjammers.

Joe Lang is as authentic as the vocabulary throughout the book. He’s tenacious, driven and earnest and I loved every minute of his journey. He’s ripped away from his life in the circus after tragedy strikes and in the blink of an eye he’s taken away from his longtime friend and father-figure, Moe Shapley, delivered to a horrible vocational school, and on the run in hopes of getting back to the circus. He finds himself at the Dawson farm and only intends on staying a few days until he can figure out a plan. I felt for Joe, understood his longing to get back to the circus, which was the only home he knew. Adding to his longing was his missed opportunity for a chance at a solo show thanks to his rising fame as a performer.

The Dawsons are a likeable family. Pop Dawson is patient and understanding, never doubting Joe’s motives, despite how cagey he is at first. The Dawson children are in awe of Joe, instantly taking a liking to him. I was glad there was no petty jealousy among the children. I’m so over the “let’s be mean to the new kid” trope. (Not that it’s not present in some form in the book, but it comes from minor characters.) Only Ma Dawson is skeptical of the quiet, brooding boy. But Joe is good with her children and hardworking. The development of Joe and Mrs. Dawson’s relationship over time is gratifying.

Joe’s inner turmoil over longing to be back at the circus and finding himself content with farm life, his maturity as the story progresses, and his charm really drives the story. Much like Joe, I found myself wanting him to stay with the Dawsons, but also wanting him to achieve his goal of a solo show in the circus and reunite with Moe.

I devoured most of this book in one sitting. I (clearly) loved Joe and the focus on found family. Sawdust in His Shoes surprised me; it was funny, uplifting, tense and rewarding!

I recommend this if:
+ You’re looking for a realistic, historical middle-grade
+ You like heartwarming, found family stories
+ You want a protagonist from the circus ( )
  MillieHennessy | Dec 13, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is one of those stories that speaks straight to your soul. Young Joe's journey, both literal and figurative, reminds me of the best novels of adolescence I have read. This is a real treasure of a book, one I think anyone could read, enjoy, and find inspiration within its pages. ( )
  sstaheli | Oct 18, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
received through librarything's early review program

This is a lovely book. It is very much a product of the 50s, as far as gender roles go, but despite that is refreshingly free of misogyny. And the story is just lovely; sweet, true, honest about how terrible living with a teen can be, and doesn't fall for the trope of "what s wonderful life" in pretending that beating someone's dreams out of them is ok, as long as they achieve someone else's dream. Ok, it's true, I specifically hate that movie, but also I feared that was where this book was going, and it didn't, and I thank it for that. ( )
  Kesterbird | Sep 24, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I thought this would be a cute fluffy book - circus kid stranded on a farm, struggles to get back to the life he's used to. Fun, but light. Wow, did I miss the mark. There's more depth in this than in a good many books for adults - and it's a great story at the same time. Joe's struggles, with the situation and with himself, are fascinating, beautifully depicted, and very realistic. He makes the right choices, but only after he's made wrong ones and come to understand the right ones. And a perfect ending. This will be reread many times - and I'll be looking for more by the author. I think I have some of her books, not sure if I've ever read any before. Yay for great reprints! ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Aug 9, 2018 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Where has this book been all my life? Somehow in early 1960s when I haunted the Ocean Park Library in Santa Monica, I never encountered it. Fortunately, it has been republished by Plough Publishing House in time for my grandchildren to grow into it, and it is such a timeless and universally appealing book that both I and my daughter are delighted that I received it through the Early Reviewers program.

I cannot remember who said that the criterion of a good children's book is one in which "the characters change" (a child's words), that is, one in which personal growth takes place. Sawdust in his Shoes is a coming-of-age story in which not only does the young protagonist mature, learning to trust adults outside his previous experience and find the good in "gillies" (non-circus folks), but also his foster family on an Oregon farm and even some of the neighbours who make brief appearances in the story experience personal change and broadening horizons. "One of the ten best children's books of the year -- New York Times", states the front cover blurb. Faint praise for a truly outstanding book! If the Lewis Carroll Shelf Awards (given to the best children's books of all time, worthy to stand next to Alice on the bookshelf) were still being bestowed, I'd nominate Sawdust in his Shoes. ( )
  muumi | Jul 31, 2018 |
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