________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Not a Nickel to Spare: The Great Depression Diary of Sally Cohen. (Dear Canada).

Perry Nodelman.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2007.
218 pp., cloth, $14.99.
ISBN 978-0-439-96130-1.

Subject Headings:
Depressions-1929-Ontario-Toronto-Juvenile fiction.
Jews-Ontario-Toronto-Juvenile fiction.
Antisemitism-Ontario-Toronto-Juvenile fiction.
Toronto (Ont.)-History-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Deborah Pethrick.

***½ /4

Not a Nickel to Spare: The Great Depression Diary of Sally Cohen is the nineteenth instalment in the “Dear Canada” series. In this wonderful story written in the familiar journal fashion of the series, Sally gives voice to the everyday hardships people dealt with during the 1930’s depression. More importantly, she tells of the anti-Semitism Jews faced here in Canada. Sally Cohen is an 11-year-old Jewish girl living with her parents and five sisters who range from 21 to four years of age. She loves to read and write. Her cousin Benny gives her a scribbler to write in, and she hides down the basement to write.

                                     July 8,1932
I feel so guilty. I should be upstairs in the kitchen helping Gert do the dishes, not hiding down here in the cellar writing. I shouldn’t be writing at all-especially not in this scribbler. But it’s too late now. I’ve already started. I’ve always wanted to have a diary to write my secrets in, and now’s my chance.


     Over the span of a year, Sally writes about her family, school and the political activity affecting the Jewish community. Being an 11-year-old girl, Sally is accepting of what she is told, but, at the same time, she has questions. She questions her parents’ resistance to learn English and their difficulty in letting go of their old world ways. She comments on her father’s insistence in staying with “their own kind." The family is put into turmoil when Sally’s older sister becomes involved with a “goy” and her otherwise quiet father threatens to kill himself if she marries a gentile.

… He said Sophie was trying to destroy the family and the whole Jewish race…”  “…we should stick to our own kind.  …I was actually going to talk to that girl in my class, Myrtle MacDonald, even if it made Rivka and the other Jewish girls angry…  But now I’m not going to because no matter how much she likes writing, Myrtle is still not Jewish.”

     Sally writes of the struggles everyone had trying to find and keep jobs, of people not having enough food to eat and hobos sleeping in the parks. Signs are posted saying Jews Need Not Apply. Her father doesn’t understand why Jewish people can’t find a job for him. Even if it is the Depression, people should look after their own, again referring to the difficulty in letting go of old ways. Cousin Benny, who had to quit school at the age of 14, works any job he can find, usually illegal. Her older sisters have had to give up the dream of education and work in a factory for poor wages. Sally loves to go to school to read stories and poems. Her reader cost 14 cents and was borrowed from her cousin Millie.

At least I have a reader. If I keep going to school next year like Ma and Pa and Sophie say they want me to, the reader will cost 16 cents, and no one else in the family has gone that far in school yet, so we’ll have to buy an new one. I do like school, but the books and scribblers are so expensive…”

     She goes to school with Jew and non-Jews. She is intrigued with non-Jews but keeps reminding herself to stay with her own kind.

     Cousin Benny is Sally’s connection to the outside world. Her parents choose not to know what is going on outside their own community. Benny, on the other hand, tells Sally about Hitler and Germany.

Benny read in the Zhurnal that Hitler has thrown out all the Jewish doctors and lawyers and he’s making kosher meat illegal and says he wants the whole country of Germany to be cleansed of Jews…Benny says lots of Jewish people are  trying to get out of Germany. 

     Through Benny’s exploits, Sally learns of the Swastika Gang and the Uptown Gang and of  their fighting in the parks for control. Sally struggles to understand the political and racial chaos and worries about her cousin’s obsession with it all. Throughout each page, readers are reminded of the daily struggles and hardships people made just to survive during the Depression. Readers are forced to think about the injustices toward the Jews. We question why old ways are not let go and are thankful for the changes that have come throughout the years.

     Although Sally’s scribbler runs out of pages, the epilogue lets us know what happens to the Cohen family. The pictures and map establish a “real feel” to this historical fiction novel.

Highly Recommended.

Deborah Pethrick is constantly reading to keep up with the students in her school in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.