Minerva Kalpin, the star of the new Depression-era novel Chig and the Second Spread, is so tiny that her nickname is Chigger, after the little red insect that lives in the hills around her hometown, Niplak.
Niplak might be small, with only about 100 families sprinkled through the hills, but Chig loves it. She's a new pupil at Miss Barkus' one-room school and excited to "dip her toe into the river of learning." Though just four feet tall, Chig is a year older than the other beginning students. Her mother taught her at home so she would not be too far behind her peers and hoped for a growth spurt that never came.
Chig loves school and Miss Barkus, but all is not well in class. First, Chig is so quiet that she often can't be heard. She worries about becoming invisible to those around her. To make matters worse, the class bully Ed Beemus taunts her and makes hurtful comments about her height.
Then one day, during lunch, Chig notices the missing "second spread" on her classmates' sandwiches. Instead of meat and ketchup on their biscuits, there is just ketchup. The lack of food is a sign of hard times, a signal to Chig of the financial worries of the outside world. Soon she, along with her trusted teacher, come up with a plan to stem the tide, at least in their little town.
Author Gwenyth Swain includes many historic details about small-town Depression-era life in this charming novel. The general store has the required wood-burning stove where the "chair testers" spend their hours gossiping. Recess is filled with pretend games, intense marble tournaments and inevitable lunch swapping. Swain's wonderful sense of rural living will earn her comparisons to novelists like Kate DiCamillo, Sharon Creech and Cynthia Rylant. She is an author who deserves her place in that sorority.
Lynn Beckwith is a second grade teacher in Nashville. Copyright 2003 BookPage Reviews
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2004 Spring
Called Chig because she's ""'bout the size of a chigger bite,"" the petite protagonist starts school at age eight, suggests a way to help her disadvantaged community when a derailed train spills cans of food, and is responsible for bringing a post office to her tiny southern Indiana town. Set during the Depression era, the episodic story is a bit heavy with Southern-fried atmosphere, but Chig is a kind-hearted and appealing character. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2003 November #1
Tiny Chig ("That girl ain't any bigger than a little red chigger") Kiplan is eight in 1933 when she first enters the one-room school in her small Indiana town where a warm-hearted veteran teacher helps Chig to grow in spirit and courage, if not much in inches. The bigger boys torment her, but kind, lazy Willy Huddleston becomes an ally and a marble-playing mentor. The "second spread" refers to the sandwich fillings that have gone missing from Chig's schoolmates' lunches by the time she is ten--a casualty of the hard times that have crept from the city to the country. Chig's acts of heroism both big and small, from a train catastrophe diverted to restoring the second spread for everyone, stem from her good heart and good sense. Endearing--and not one bit cloying--faultlessly paced, and rich in colloquialisms real or invented, Chig is a textured, sympathetic look at rural life during the Depression and at a champion of a girl. (author note) (Fiction. 9-12) Copyright Kirkus 2003 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 December #3
Swain (The Road to Seneca Falls) sets her appealing first novel "way down deep in the hills and hollers of southern Indiana" during the Depression. In the fall of 1933, Chig-named by her father, who declared that his tiny child wasn't "any bigger than a little red chigger"-finally starts school at the age of eight after her parents realize that their diminutive daughter isn't likely to grow any bigger. Despite the taunts from older boys (they call her the "runt of the litter"), Chig adjusts to school with the help of her supportive teacher and a kind schoolmate. With the folksy narrative filled with period particulars, these school passages, as well as numerous scenarios depicting Chig's relationships with members of her likable family, convincingly convey this winning heroine. Yet the tale loses its punch as it treads on less credible turf. Chig notices that her schoolmates' lunch sandwiches are "decidedly slim on spreads" and writes a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt proposing a plan that will create jobs for her town-and enable residents to afford more substantial meals. The girl's larger-than-life aspirations continue as she masterminds a successful last-ditch effort to prevent a train derailment (yet the wreckage of one car carrying tinned food supplies the town with abundant second spreads for sandwiches). Despite a few tall-tale traits, the novel's strong characters and the engaging banter between them should keep kids entertained. Ages 8-12. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 January
Gr 4-5-Eight-year-old Minerva Kalpin, nicknamed Chig after a red chigger for her tiny physique, worries about her size and feels intimidated when it is time to attend the one-room schoolhouse in Depression-era southern Indiana. With encouragement from her teacher and her friend Willy, she understands that regardless of her petite stature, she "can do good works." With her newly found determination to ignore the inevitable teasing in school, Chig makes some money, seeks advice from the visiting carnival's tall lady, and works out a plan to help the town solve the hunger problem. Written in a folksy narrative style, the story moves as slowly as Chig appears to be growing. It finally picks up some steam in the last quarter when a railroad bridge buckles after a major rainstorm, just as the 10:40 comes across. This colloquial slice of life will have trouble holding the interest of most readers.-Rita Soltan, Oakland University, Rochester, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.