They move to Toronto where Ellen's mother gets a job cleaning the house of a wealthy friend of her sister. Meanwhile, Ellen struggles to find the courage to meet the children living in the house next door to her Aunt's boarding house. She takes to climbing the large elm tree outside her bedroom window and listening to the children play. The elm becomes Ellen's " listening tree" where she can learn about the three children, Charlene, Joey, and Gracie.
The situation changes drastically one day when Ellen overhears a conversation between two men who are determined to force the children's family out of their home. Forgetting her shyness, Ellen knows she needs to tell someone what she has heard and act. Together Ellen and the three children come up with a plan that just might save Charlene and her siblings from "flitting".
This short novel provides young readers with a good idea of what life was like in Toronto during the Great Depression and how people sometimes helped one another through this difficult time. Many problems common to the Great Depression, such soup kitchens, homeless and unemployed young men are not dealt with but Lottridge does give her readers a sense of how precarious life was for some families. Charlene, Joey and Gracie's mother owes forty dollars in back rent - a large sum for a family in 1934. Families who couldn't pay their rent, often "flitted", that is, left in the middle of the night. My father who was born in 1920, often told me about how his family moved from home to home during the 1930's because they were unable to pay their rent. They simply packed up and moved at night. My grandparents lost all of their money, just enough to buy a house, in the stock market crash of 1929.
Lottridge ties up most of the story lines adequately; Charlene's family is helped, Ellen's situation in Toronto seems secure, and we learn that her father has found work on a farm in northern Alberta, where the drought wasn't so bad.
Again I take issue with what is a reasonably good book trapped in an awful cover that is unappealing to young readers. It seems to be almost a foregone conclusion that a Canadian novel will have a terrible cover. Celia Barker Lottridge is a first rate author who deserves better.
Lottridge who lives in Seaton Village, a part of the Annex in Toronto, Ontario, decided it might be interesting to explore what life was like in her neighbourhood during another era, in this case, the 1930's Depression. The author wanted children to learn about this era and what life was like in Canada during the difficult times of the Depression.
“I saw it as a time when life was full of practical problems—the majority of people were having to cope with the day-to-day of getting money … the Depression had a huge impact here in Canada, but I don’t think a lot of children or adults have any idea of how extremely hard it was. We like to forget about hard times,”(taken from http://gleanernews.ca/index.php/2011/01/19/a-seaton-story/#.UHSj1K542qg )
Recommended for 9 to 11 years of age.
The Listening Tree by Celia Baker Lottridge
Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside 2011