My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge: Stepping On the Cracks by Mary Downing Hahn

Scott O'Dell Award

Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1992 winner, Stepping On the Cracks, by Mary Downing Hahn.

Set during 1944-45, sixth-grader Margaret and her best friend, Elizabeth, look forward to the war ending and their brothers coming home, but they dread crossing the path of their class bully, Gordy. When the girls discover Gordy is hiding one of his brothers, a deserter, the girls must decide whether to turn them in, or help them.

History Lessons:

Domestic violence laws–This is such a huge topic, I can barely make a dent in it. There is still too much domestic violence, but now we have more laws for prosecuting abusers and naming mandatory reporters. However, as recently as 50 years ago, people had little legal recourse against an abusive spouse/parent.

Blue/Silver/Gold Star Banners (Service Flags)–After 9/11, when many of our military men and women were sent into combat, I started seeing the Blue Star Banners. But, they weren’t a new form of honor or patriotism. The banners date back to World War I and were the brainchild of the father of two sons fighting in the war. Since then, the U.S. Dept. of Defense adopted the banners and developed display regulations.

Basically, an immediate family member of a service person in combat zones may display them. Each blue star stands for a service person. If the person dies or is killed, a gold star replaces the blue, and a silver star is used for a wounded/injured/ill man or woman.

Writing Lessons:

A big issue, without didacticism–While Hahn shows the evil of domestic violence, when it comes to war and objections to war, she leaves things more open-ended. The characters explore the issues of war/objections to war, and Margaret’s family members choose opposing sides, but it doesn’t seem like Hahn is forcing one view on readers. Hahn shows how and why good people can believe differently. Never let it be said children’s literature is fluff. This book tackled big issues and gave me lots to think about.

A sympathetic antagonist–In the beginning of Stepping on the Cracks, Margaret and Elizabeth hate Gordy. I disliked him, too, and feared for the girls. But, by the end of the book, even though Gordy still wasn’t a wonderful kid, I was rooting for him. How does an author get readers to root for the antagonist, even without giving him or her their own point of view?

  • Hahn shows Gordy caring about something–and that important thing is at risk. In this case, he cares about his brother, even when he doesn’t agree with his brother’s actions, and he cares about his younger siblings.
  • Hahn shows Gordy is also endangered by someone else–his father.
  • Hahn lets Gordy show compassion for Margaret and show bravery in protecting his family.

For more info:

Women Against Abuse

Federal Domestic Violence Laws

The Service Flag of the United States

The Blue Star Banner

Silver Star Families of America

Mary Downing Hahn

My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge

Join me March 31 to talk about the 2015 Scott O’Dell Award winner, Dash, by Kirby Larson.

Have you ever flown a Service Flag? If so, thank you for your loved one’s service and sacrifice. What other kids’ books present both sides of an issue, yet allow readers to decide what they think? For what other antagonists do you end up rooting?

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