In the spring of 1871, fourteen-year-old Pringle Rose learns that her parents have been killed in a terrible carriage accident. After her uncle Edward and his awful wife, Adeline, move into Pringle’s family home — making life unbearable for her and her younger brother, Gideon — Pringle runs away with Gideon to Chicago, seeking refuge from the tragedy, and hoping to start a new life. She becomes a nanny for the children of a labor activist, and quickly finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue and lies. Then, when a familiar figure from home arrives, Pringle begins to piece together the devastating mystery of what happened to her parents, and realizes just how deadly the truth might be. But soon, one of the greatest disasters this country has ever known — the Great Fire of Chicago — flares up, and Pringle is on the run for her life.
Look at what Pringle has done!
A Junior Library Guild selection.
Deborah B. Ford, “Pitch-Perfect Middle Grade Novels: JLGs on the Radar,” School Library Journal.
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Kirkus: “The many apt allusions to Alice in Wonderland, Pringle’s cherished gift from her mother, elevate and deepen the story as, more than once, Pringle’s life is turned upside down, and things are often not what they seem to be. . . Bartoletti’s writing is always clear and at times elegant, as she creates an immensely likable young protagonist against a well-drawn historical backdrop.”
Booklist: “Bartoletti’s Dear America entry plunks the high-action historical diary tale into the swirl of events surrounding the Chicago Fire of 1871 and the general labor unrest of the day. Lively writing and strong characterizations, especially that of our plucky heroine, keep the pages turning.”
School Library Journal: “Readers will enjoy this novel with its multiple historical events and engaging personal story.”
More About the Story
I often tell aspiring writers to write about what you like, to write about what you know, to write about what you’d like to know, and to write about what you don’t like and don’t understand.
You see, the acts of researching and writing and telling stories help me to stretch and to grow and to make meaning. It helps me understand difficult subjects and ideas.
If you know my body of nonfiction work, then you know that I’ve spent the last twenty years researching and writing and thinking deeply about difficult and heart-breaking subjects such as child labor, the Holocaust, the Third Reich, famine and war, and the Ku Klux Klan.
In my work, I explore the lives of those who were victimized, exploited, disenfranchised, and silenced. I like to explore the ways that these people’s lives were greater than the pain and violence and injustice that they suffered. I like to explore the ways these people became active agents in their struggle for change — and for survival and for the survival of their loved ones. Those who suffered violence and injustice and hatred were not passive victims.
Given my interests, it may seem obvious that I would tell Pringle’s story through one of those lenses. After all, that’s what I did in my first Dear America book, A Coal Miner’s Bride.
A book always surprises its writer.
I like to expose gaps and contradictions. I appreciate irony. Perhaps that’s why Pringle surprised me by showing up, demanding that I tell her story, as the daughter of a wealthy mine owner who railed against the workers’ attempts to unionize and strike for better wages and living conditions.
When I began writing, I didn’t realize the full extent of my interest in the lives of children with disabilities and the fact that their stories are often marginalized or missing completely from the historical record. I didn’t know that Pringle’s younger brother Gideon had Down syndrome. That storyline emerged as I began to explore Gideon’s character more.
And yet, I know where I found the seeds of inspiration for Gideon’s character: from a family friend named Sal Angello. Sal was born with Down syndrome in 1947.
I first met Sal when I was sixteen and grew to know him and his family well over the coming years. Little did I know that I was collecting seeds for a character named Gideon. Perhaps the best compliment comes from Sal’s amazing sister, Rose Marie Crotti, who says about the book: “Susan captured Sal’s sense of humor and life qualities that were unique to him.”
Sal’s family was not wealthy, as Gideon’s family is in the story, but Sal led a rich life. He died before his sixty-third birthday in 2010.
Here’s a photograph of Sal when he was eight years old. I hope Sal inspires you to read Down the Rabbit Hole.