Young Readers

Hard Times for Jake Smith

A Story of the Depression Era
“An absorbing story of survival.” —THE RAKE
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It’s 1935, and the hard times of the Great Depression, it seems, are here to stay. Each day, something else is gone: first the pig, then the cow, then one day even the beloved dog, Adder, is sold off. Finally, the whole family packs up in the car and leaves—the children wonder where, but their parents are silent. After a couple hours’ drive, the car stops on the edge of the road and Ma leans into the back seat, giving MaryJake a handkerchief with something tied inside and instructions to walk down the path into the forest, take the left fork into town, and present the handkerchief at the rock house. Then the car—and with it, Ma, Pa, and MaryJake’s two brothers—drives away.

So begins the adventure of an abandoned girl who chooses her own path (neither left fork nor right), dyes her hair in a stump full of walnut-colored water, and disguises herself as a boy in order to survive. MaryJake Wildsmith is now Jake Smith, soon to discover that she is not the only one keeping secrets.

Publish Date
5.25 × 8 × 0.56 in
9.2 oz

Praise and Prizes

  • “A surprisingly moving, gentle story of redemption in hard times … Aileen Kilgore Henderson eschews the caricatures of Appalachian poverty, instead creating characters … who work to take care of their land and to use what gifts and resources they have to realize dreams of renewal for themselves and others.”

    Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
  • “Beautifully written by a child of the Depression, this is a splendid presentation of the challenged but often resilient human spirit in that era. It also teaches the reader about medicinal plants, meteorites, xeroderma pigmentosum, animal husbandry and more.”

  • “Children’s books have been getting progressively smarter recently… . Aileen Kilgore Henderson doesn’t dumb things down, writing about violence and abandonment in moving and straightforward prose… . An absorbing story of survival.”

    The Rake
  • “Brave, resourceful, kind, and often funny, MaryJake is a character who grows on you. You want her to succeed, to find peace within herself… . In MaryJake’s story we find a message of hope. Even in the worst of times there are moments of fun, of friendship, and instances when good people end up finding happiness.”

    Through the Looking Glass
  • “Family secrets add suspense, and the plain words tell an elemental abandonment story that has the power of a fairy tale.”