Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thomas Minehan, The Lonesome Road (The Way of Life of a Hobo)

One my most treasured books is an autographed first edition of Thomas Minehan's Boy and Girl Tramps in America (1934), in which I found a letter from the author to the book's original owner about their shared interest in hobo culture. Minehan was a depression-era educator and ethnographer who actually traveled with hobos, taking particular interest in the lives of young tramps. This book, Lonesome Road (1941), may be the only children's book ever written about the actual lives of depression-era hobos. It's a narrative incorporating many of the conclusions of Minehan's larger work through the story of a kid named Joe who gives hobo life a try, but then abandons it after his friend Bill loses his toes and Joe realizes that if he keeps heading down that road he's only going to end up "a bum." I love the WPA-style illustrations in this book, and Minehan's informed text makes this book worth hunting down:

As far as I know, there were no other books published in the "Way of Life" series, which is too bad. This one is really good.