It is August 1938 and, despite the Great Depression gripping the country, William cannot tell that anything has changed for the Baggett family. His father and stepmother depend on government handouts to feed their large family just like they always have; he still has to avoid attracting the attention of his older half-brothers who delight in tormenting him; and he will never understand how his mother could have ever married “Big Ed,” his father, in the first place.
William, who is twelve years old, has been planning to run away from the Baggetts for a long time and he hopes to save enough money in the next few months to make that happen. His plans change, though, when his younger sister Jancy suffers a loss at the hands of the older Baggetts and convinces William that now is time for the four youngest Baggetts to make their escape. One morning before daybreak, William, his two younger sisters, and four-year-old Buddy sneak away to walk the five miles to town where they hope to catch a bus to their Aunt’s house - some 65 miles up the road.
If it were that easy, of course, William S. and his siblings would not have experienced much of a “great escape.” Even before they make it to town things get shaky, but the young Baggetts are offered temporary shelter by Clarice, a little girl whose dog discovers them walking down the street. William’s biggest problem while hiding out with Clarice’s help is how to keep the two youngest Baggett kids from bouncing off the walls from boredom, a predicament he handles by performing Shakespeare’s The Tempest for them. William and Jancy, despite the odds against them getting there, are determined to make it to their Aunt and, when they do, they find they may have completed only what will be the first leg of a longer journey.
William S. and the Great Escape will, I think, be enjoyed by children from about 10 to 13 years of age. Children of that age are generally already familiar with classic tales about stepchildren being abused or ignored by parents who favor their own older children, so they should be sympathetic to the plight of the youngest Baggetts. They will also thrill to the dangers and close calls the children face as they try to outwit the adult world. The author, though, in her zeal to promote the works of William Shakespeare to her young audience, may have overdone it to such a degree that some of those young readers resort to skimming whole chapters of the book in order to get back to “the good parts.”
I passed William S. and the Great Escape on to my 10-year-old granddaughter yesterday and I look forward to hearing what she thinks of it. I suspect that, since she is part of the book’s target audience, she might see it very differently from the way I did.
Rated at: 3.5