A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt
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Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Eleven-year-old Margo Bandini and her family live in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, during the Great Depression. Papa owns a shoe repair shop and often accepts payment in the form of food or goods since few people have money. Margo’s younger brother, Charlie, was hospitalized after his leg became infected. Although he is home now, his medical bills have put an even greater financial strain on the family.
When Charlie goes missing for a short time, Margo blames the town gypsies. Margo’s parents urge her not to make judgments about the poor. They strive to give whatever they can to help the hungry and jobless, even though they have little themselves. Margo’s friend Rosa has parents who often argue. Rosa’s father finally leaves town in search of work. Margo and Rosa like to think about first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her world travels. They also watch a mysterious woman in a hat taking the train to the city every other Sunday. They imagine she is a rich lady or a spy.
Margo’s teacher, Miss Dobson, shows the class news articles on the Great Depression. Margo especially likes reading stories by a journalist named E.D. Kirby. Miss Dobson tells the students about the chain reaction that has caused the nation’s financial struggles. She says it’s like dominoes: When one falls, the others begin going down as well. Margo sees this happening on her own street, and eventually, to her own family. The Bandinis learn the bank is going to take their home because they can’t pay the bills. Papa gives Margo the Victory Medal he earned for fighting in the Great War, hoping it will give her courage.
Miss Dobson asks each student to write a letter to someone famous. When Margo learns that Eleanor Roosevelt often responds to letters personally, she writes to the first lady. Margo tells Miss Dobson her family only has a few weeks before they lose their house, so Miss Dobson promises to get the letter to Mrs. Roosevelt quickly. Margo includes her father’s medal in the letter, asking Mrs. Roosevelt to return it if she can help and to keep it for courage if she cannot.
Shortly before eviction day, Margo comes home to find the sheriff and the bank president in her house with her parents. She fears they’re being kicked out early, but she learns instead that the men have received instructions from Eleanor Roosevelt. The bank has made an arrangement that will allow the family to keep their home. The bank president also tells Margo that in order to get the rest of the first lady’s message and her medal back, she must speak to E.D. Kirby.
She asks Miss Dobson how she can find the journalist. Miss Dobson reveals that she is E.D. Kirby, the mysterious woman Margo has seen taking the train to the city. She and Mrs. Roosevelt have been fellow journalists and friends for many years. Miss Dobson returns Papa’s medal along with a note from Mrs. Roosevelt. The first lady writes that it gives her courage to hear from young people like Margo. As the story ends, Margo and her family enjoy an evening on their street and reflect on the health and happiness they’ve found in America.
The Bandinis attend a Catholic church. A nun in a hospital sneaks Margo past Mother Superior so she can see her brother.
Other Belief Systems
A superstitious neighbor blames el diavolo (the Devil) for bringing the Great Depression. She’s also convinced her sighting of a shooting star is a bad omen.
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In an endnote, the author explains this story is based on true events. Mrs. Roosevelt helped the author’s ancestors during the Great Depression.
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