Catch a Tiger by the Toe by Ellen Levine is about an eleven year old girl living in NYC in 1953. She keeps a lot of secrets from her friends and classmates, mostly about her parents’ political opinions and activities. It is the McCarthy era, and having opinions or working for social justice are reason enough to be fired from your job, lose your home, and be called before a congressional committee pressuring you to give names of other Un-American conspirators. The setting and national events are based on fact although the story of Jamie’s family is fictional. The book is written for young adults, but I found it interesting and unsettling.
Later, more thoughts...
I had to come back and add a few more comments. Jamie is a likable character drawn from real life. She is the kind of kid I would love to be friends with. There were just a few things she says that seemed odd to me. For one thing, she is eleven and lives in NYC but her parents don’t seem to care what hours she keeps or where she goes. She runs in and out of the apartment without telling anyone anything. When her little brother asks her where she was she just says “Out”. Her parents don’t even notice she was gone. Is it just the paranoid times we live in?
Another thing bugs me. In one passage she is talking about her mother telling her not to talk to strangers and never answer any questions about her family, because of their politics. She says “From that day on I’ve been very careful about strangers. For a couple of years until I was about nine I still had to ask people to cross me at the stop light, but that was it, just “Mister, can you cross me?” Ever since then, I’ve been on the watch. And nobody has ever asked me any questions. Until today, that is.” Is it just me or is that odd? A kid of eight years old wandering around NYC and asking strangers to help her cross the street? Her parents taught her to ask someone to help her? I would expect her parents to teach her to cross on her own when she was old enough, and tell strangers to bug off and keep their hands to themselves, thank you very much. Is it just me?