Hello everybody! Today, I’m so excited to be welcoming Jane Elson with her guest post on the parallels between the Great Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of the blog tour for her newest book Storm Horse. I’m so looking forward to reading the book as part of an upcoming post, especially after reading this. Onto the post!
There are times when events of the past fit events of the present like a glove. This is one of those moments. When I started writing Storm Horse I could never have dreamt what was about to happen to the world.
In Storm Horse, Daniel Margate has inherited some letters that his great-great-grandad, Cuthbert H Brown Junior, wrote to Seabiscuit the racehorse in the 1930s, when he was twelve.
Seabiscuit was not built to be a racehorse: his neck was too thick, his legs were too short with knobbly knees, and he had a funny stride, swinging one foreleg out wildly as he walked. Charles Howard his owner declared to the press, ‘Seabiscuit is the racehorse who is too small, ridden by the jockey who’s too tall, trained by the trainer who is too old.’
Seabiscuit was a true underdog and the nation who had lost everything in the great depression loved him, and as he won race after race, he gave the nation hope that their lives might change too. This story of Seabiscuit resonates so much, as now in the midst of the pandemic. Everybody needs hope.
The opening passage of my book is this:
My great-great-grandad, Cuthbert H. Brown Junior, lived in a car. His ma slept in the front seat, his pa in the driving seat and Cuthbert H. Brown Junior, who was small like me, curled up on the back seat with his sister Dora and brother Frank – all higgledy-piggledy with their pots and pans and clothes.
The Great Depression had a serious effect on children’s lives. Many children were cast out of their homes with their families who were unable to afford the rent, after losing everything when the Stock market crashed: some living in their cars like Cuthbert in Storm Horse, many teenagers running wild, either after actually running away or being cast out by their families who couldn’t afford to feed them. Some clinging to the railway carriages to get a free ride to someplace in the hope of finding a new life – they were known as the train track kids.
We ar living through a strange time now, with the pandemic having a profound effect on children’s lives and there are parallels that can be made.
Like in the Great Depression, many jobs have been lost, the effect of which is always felt by children. And, of course much has already been spoken about how children have been shut in their homes during lockdown as prisoners, away from their friends. In Storm Horse, like millions of families today, Daniel and his family visit a food bank, as does his friend Molly-May.
Back in the Great Depression, they were called Soup Kitchens. Every tragedy has its heroes. One of the heroes of the Great Depression was Eleanor Rosevelt, the wife of the president of the United States of America, who did much in her human rights work to speak up for the poor and hungry and even put in hours working in a Soup Kitchen. In the Pandemic we have hero footballer Marcus Rashford, challenging the government to keep Briton’s children fed.
I tried to do my bit too. I am an ambassador for the charity Nacoa – the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. We needed to make sure that children in lockdown with alcoholic parents were able to find the Nacoa helpline.
In the midst of writing Storm Horse, Hilary Henriques, the CEO of Nacoa, contacted me and asked how Nell in my book Will you Catch Me? would cope in lockdown. In response I immediately started writing a short story called Lockdown Nell. It is now a recording with me narrating Nell and with an introduction by actor Geraldine James.
I’m proud to say it’s gone global with many alcohol agencies across the planet using it, including the Hazelden Betty Ford Children’s Programme. Here are the links to the free ebook and audio of Lockdown Nell.
If you are reading this and know a child who it would help, please do spread the word:
Calls to Nacoa’s helpline have tripled during the Pandemic. Here is the link: Nacoa.org.uk
The number of children living in poverty in the UK is growing every day with so many families pushed over the brink by the pandemic, just as so many children in the United States of America lived in abject poverty in the 1930s. Children of the Great Depression had Seabiscuit as their champion and children of the Pandemic need the little horse that could as a champion too. My hope is that Storm Horse will bring children comfort.
Thank you so much for reading! Do you enjoy books about animals? Do you agree with Jane about the similarities between these two time periods? I’d love to hear in the comments!