Images © estates of Stephen W. Meader and Edward Shenton.
Meader is a favorite author of novels for children for me for at least two reasons. First, his stories are well told and often exciting adventures. Second, many of them take place in my home state of New Jersey. His early work, written during the Great Depression, often feature a young man from a background with few resources using ingenuity to make his way in the world of work and steady income, and this is one of those. (Later works were more often historical novels.)
Tom Ballard has graduated High School, and is looking for a way to make some money to help himself and his mother, their entire household. He tries lots of odd jobs like mowing lawns, but has his sights set higher. Using all his savings, he buys an old, run-down Ford Model-T truck, and with some work, gets it into good enough shape to haul cargo in and around his home area of southern New Jersey not too far from Camden and Philadelphia. When he’s proven he can do the work, bigger opportunities come his way: hauling produce to Philadelphia and New York, and carrying coal from central Pennsylvania to homeowners in New Jersey. There are all kinds of dangers and trouble along the way, from hijackers, union gangs, and rival trucks, not to mention treacherous weather, unsafe roads and a vehicle well past its prime. Tom perseveres, and in time can afford a larger, newer truck, hiring a friend to continue working the Model-T. One particular hijacker and Tom keep crossing paths until one night Tom is kidnapped by the criminal and fears for his life. A daring escape through woods and swamps is his only hope.
Adding much to the book are many fine illustrations by Edward Shenton, a talented and much-lauded illustrator for decades. You can read about him HERE. Shenton’s work has an art deco flavor, and a sure knowledge of both figures and machinery that made him a good match for Meader, and they worked together on over a dozen novels for kids. Shenton also illustrated classics like “The Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and works by Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Hemingway.
Most of Stephen W. Meader’s books are long out of print, which is a shame. They do reflect a simpler time, but I think many young readers of today would enjoy them all the same. Highly recommended if you can find them.