My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge: THE HIRED GIRL by Laura Amy Schlitz

Scott O'Dell Award

Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is this year’s (2016) winner, The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press, 2015).

In this young adult historical fiction, set in 1911, 14-year-old Joan is willing to give up school and put up with cooking and cleaning for her father and four brothers, if she could have a little spending money. She goes on strike.

But when her father retaliates by burning her three precious books, Joan flees to the big city of Baltimore, where she is hired as a servant by a Jewish family. In her quest to better herself and help the family who has been kind to her, she often unknowingly brings trouble on herself and hurts the people she’s learning to love.

History lessons:

Jewish family–I believe this is the first Scott O’Dell Award book that features a Jewish family–at least of the ones I’ve read so far (about two-thirds of the winners). I appreciated getting a look at a Jewish family in a time other than Biblical or Holocaust-era.   It’s good to be reminded that Jewish lives were not limited to those two time periods.

Housework in 1911–This book is also the first Scott O’Dell Award book set in the early between 1900-1920, so it was interesting to read about the early 20th Century.

I’ve read lots of books set in the 19th Century or before, where women spent all day growing their food, cooking and cleaning, and making and mending their clothes. They had to use candles, make their own soap, keep fires going, fetch water from a well, heat water, empty chamber pots, etc.

In The Hired Girl, Joan leaves her farm home where she didn’t have any conveniences–except store-bought fabric–and she is hired by a family that has electricity in its home. The family has an electric toaster, two refrigerators, and two gas ranges. They have indoor plumbing and hot water. The family even has a manual carpet sweeper and later purchases an electric vacuum.

I enjoyed reading about the details of taking care of a family when electricity and other labor-saving devices were beginning to give women more time for other things, such as education and pleasure-reading. I’m also grateful for electricity and natural gas! Without those things, and the devices they power, I wouldn’t be able to spend hours each day reading and writing.

Writing lesson:

Epistolary novel–This books is comprised of Joan’s journal entries, which means Joan is telling the reader what happened. Modern authors are advised to show and not tell, because the showing will draw the reader into the story better.

As I was reading the book, I’d be aware at times of Joan’s narration, but soon her journal entries had me picturing the scenes. How did Schlitz accomplish that?

First, because the book is comprised of diary entries, we see everything through Joan’s senses. It’s in first person point of view. Through Joan’s words we quickly learn what her personality is like, and we identify with her wants and feelings. We also see that she’s mature, yet still a child; educated, yet ignorant in many ways; and has many good qualities, yet she is open about her faults.

Second, Joan has this original and fun voice. She has some education and refinement about her, yet she is also a practical farm girl, so her descriptions and metaphors are beautiful and earthy–and appropriate for her. Joan often “tells” how she is feeling, but she’ll also describe it in fresh, interesting ways.

Take this paragraph as an example:

“It’s past midnight and I can’t sleep. I can’t lie still. My face aches and I can’t stop hating Father. These past two hours, I’ve done nothing but toss and turn. I’ve been plumping and folding my pillow, trying to make it cradle my head, but it won’t. My hatred has crawled into the pillow slip and made a lump.”

I can picture Joan plumping, and pounding that pillow. And the metaphor about hatred crawling into her pillow slip is awesome!

For more info:“>The Hired Girl Book Trailer

School Library Journal interview with Schlitz

Jewish Book Council interview with Schlitz

Join me March 29 to discuss my next challenge book, the 1998 winner, Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.

What books with Jewish characters have you read that were set in other times besides Biblical or Holocaust-eras? What epistolary novels have you loved? What is your favorite labor-saving device or invention?


  1. Jane Heitman Healy

    I’m intrigued by this sentence: “In her quest to better herself and help the family who has been kind to her, she often unknowingly brings trouble on herself and hurts the people she’s learning to love.” A great review, Deb. Thanks! I enjoyed A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan Blos. This would be called “a quiet book” today. An adult epistolary book I loved is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows, set in England immediately following WWII. And 84 Charing Cross Road, a sweet correspondence between a London bookseller and buyer.This was made into a charming movie starring Anne Bancroft & Anthony Hopkins.

    • Deb Watley

      Oh, yes! I thought The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was done very well! I haven’t read either 84 Charing Cross Road or A Gathering of Days, but they both sound right up my alley. I will have to get a hold of them!

  2. Mary Louise Sanchez

    I loved the All of a Kind Family series of a Jewish family in New York around the turn of the century. I’m thankful Gutenberg and the printing press made it possible for us to enjoy the printed page more easily.

    • Deb Watley

      All of a Kind Family has been recommended to me before, and I’ve got it on my to-be-read list. But I didn’t know what it was about. Thanks, Mary Louise!

      Oh, I hadn’t thought of the printing press! I agree!

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