Published in 1996, Following My Own Footsteps by Mary Downing Hahn tells about Gordy, his mother, and his three younger siblings going to stay with their grandmother in the South. The Lexile measure is 740L which makes this book easily readable for the intended age group of middle school. There is a little swearing, smoking, drinking, physical abuse by the father, and a scene where the older brother tells about the horrors of war.
In this installment, bully Gordy comes to a new place where he is called a "Damn Yankee." He fights and refuses to do his school work. He is deeply entrenched in failure mode, but his grandmother works with him on his school work. He meets and becomes friends with the boy next door who is in a wheelchair because of polio.
He makes good progress, but when his father gets out of jail and comes to take his family to California, things go haywire for Gordy.
Hahn captures perfectly the mindset of a child who badly wants to fit in (Gordy's sister June) even though she is dirty, unkempt, and hungry.
"June nodded and smoothed her dress. 'Do I look pretty?'
'Sure you do,' I lied. The truth was, her hair was ratty with tangles, her dress was stained with the apple juiced she'd spilled at breakfast, and she had that pale sickly look she gets when she's tired.
'That's good,' she said. 'I want Grandma to think I'm a pretty little girl. I want her to love me'" (11).
"I glanced at June. She was standing up straight and tall, waiting for Grandma to notice her and smiling so hard it hurt to look at her. If you ever saw a puppy at the pound, that's what June reminded me of. Pale and dirty and skinny but hopeful. If she'd had a tail, she'd have been wagging it to beat the band" (14).
I cried when I read these passages because I know how just how June felt.
The title of this book is the overall message of the book. It doesn't matter who your parents are; you don't have to end up like them. You don't have to follow in their footsteps because you can choose a better path and follow your own footsteps.
This is a great series for students (or adults) who like historical fiction and kids who have to be tough.