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Under the Ashes Review by Melissa Batai

Cindy Rankin
Albert Whitman & Company
250 South Northwest Highway, Suite 320
Park Ridge, IL 60068

Under the Ashes by Cindy Rankin tells the story of Beth, a twelve year old who is a bit too adventurous, mischievous, and spunky for the time she lives in. Beth, called Littlebeth by her family, lives in Paso Robles, California in 1906. While her family expects her to be dutiful and dainty and act the role of a proper young lady, she simply can’t. At her grandmother’s insistence, Beth’s parents decide to send her to live with her aunt in San Francisco to attend a school where she can learn to behave like a lady.

Once she reaches San Francisco, Beth quickly befriends her aunt’s neighbor, Mr. Steinberg. She finds Mr. Steinberg warm and charming in contrast to her Aunt Sally who is prim, proper, and difficult to get to know. Little does anyone know that just two short days after Beth arrives in San Francisco, the San Francisco earth quake would hit and change all of their lives.

This book would make a great read for homeschoolers and traditional school students alike. It is marketed for children in 3rd through 7th grade, though you could probably use it as a read aloud for younger ages. This books offers an excellent way to learn about the San Francisco earth quake—through living literature.

I read this book aloud to my daughters, ages 8 and 6.5, and they were constantly asking me to continue reading. We literally couldn’t put this book down! Beth has a rough, unpolished way of speaking, and she tells things as she sees them, which helps add humor to the story. For instance, when Beth gets off the train in San Francisco and sees her aunt for the first time, she says to the conductor, “Golly, she’s as skinny as a matchstick and just as red-faced.”

While we loved this book, there is one instance where profanity is used, which some people may not appreciate. However, because this book packs such a powerful lesson about the San Francisco earth quake as well as the discrimination that the Chinese suffered during this time, I think the positives outweigh the one negative.

I highly recommend this book to children within the target age range; even high schoolers would likely enjoy this read.

-Product review by Melissa Batai, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March, 2017