It is a cold winter morning in 1920’s Girard, Pennsylvania when Georgie awakens to a very unpleasant realization––there is no more coal to heat his family’s freezing farmhouse. To make matters worse, Mama tells him that it will be three more days before they can afford another delivery. Papa is away, working on the railroad lines, and times are tough. Mama advises Georgie that he best put on his coat.
But before Georgie has much time to feel sorry for himself, his friend Harley shows up with some interesting news. A special train has arrived in town and it’s carrying “black gold”–– coal. Harley persuades Georgie to help him pilfer some of the train’s cargo by reminding him how nice feeling warm again will be. Moreover, Harley threatens that if Georgie doesn’t help, he will tell everyone that the plan to steal coal was Georgie’s idea.
With fear in his heart, Georgie follows Harley to the railroad station where they find the expected railcar loaded with coal. Up its side ladder he climbs, jumping into the mountain of coal. Covered in black dust, he works quickly to throw chunks of precious coal to Harley, who stacks them in a wheelbarrow for the trip home. All seems to be well until the train gives a sudden jerk, and Georgie feels an odd sensation––he is sinking beneath the coals!
As he is being swallowed, he pushes against the coal with his feet, but sinks deeper into the pile. His cries for help go unanswered until … astonishingly… his father’s hand reaches out to rescue him. Pulling his son from the departing railcar, Papa says, “If I hadn’t seen you boys head this way, you’d be halfway to Texas by now.” Harley has also left the station, nowhere to be found.
Feeling ashamed and disappointed in himself, Georgie’s toes “curl with shame” as he answers his father’s question: “You know stealing is wrong?” The train, however, is now gone, and the stolen coal cannot be returned. It sits scattered on the pure white snow as a reminder of the smudge on his integrity. That is, until Papa has a marvelous idea that will help his “little coal thief” regain his sense of self-respect.
The Coal Thief, a 2015 IPPY Award winner, written by Alane Adams, reminds readers of two of life’s most important concerns: the love between a parent and child and the value of integrity. It is the story of a child’s error in judgment, lessons learned, and the growth of character. Based on a true event related to the author by her father the original “coal thief,” Adams writes a story close to her heart.
- Author: Alane Adams
- Illustrator: Lauren Gallegos
- Binding: Hardcover, 32 pp.
- Publisher: SparkPress (November 17, 2015)
- ISBN-10: 1940716276
- ISBN-13: 978-1940716275
Illustrator Lauren Gallegos captures the atmosphere of a small coal mining town of the twenties so well, that you will be checking your hands for coal dust as you turn the pages. Even Georgie’s freckles suggest a powdering of coal, and her lovely artwork brings to life an era long gone.
Children and adults will enjoy learning how Georgie and his father resolve the problem of the stolen coal, and in the process, warm the heart of the reader.