Family Reminders book cover image

Family Reminders

  • 1495

By: Julie Danneberg / Illustrated by: John Shelley

Sometimes we all need a little reminder.

Ten-year-old Mary McHugh’s world is shattered when her father is injured in a mining accident in the late 1800’s. After losing his leg, Mary’s father falls into a deep depression. He no longer plays the piano or has interest in carving the intricate wooden “Reminders” that he has always made to remind the family of the milestones they shared together. To make matters worse, the family may need to leave their home in Cripple Creek, Colorado in order to make ends meet.

Mary’s love for her father and her desire to get life back to “normal” push her to take a chance that restores her father’s spirit and brings her family a new life, strengthened by the hardships they have endured.

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Julie Danneberg, author

"As a kid, when I daydreamed or played at being grown-up, I never imagined myself as a writer. Instead I dreamed of being a famous girl reporter, a secret agent, and a teacher." With an imagination like that, it's hard to believe that Colorado native Julie Danneberg never considered a career as a writer.

After graduating from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Julie became a teacher. In her classroom, she read many children's books, and witnessed the profound impact a good book can have on a child. "I was motivated to try and write books like the ones I enjoy reading."

Read more about Julie.

John Shelley, illustrator

John Shelley was born in Birmingham, UK and grew up in Sutton Coldfield. He studied at Bournville School of Art, then illustration at Manchester Polytechnic under children's illustrator Tony Ross.

From 1983 he began working as a freelance illustrator in London, and by 1984 had co-founded the artist's collective Facade Studios with designer Andy Royston and illustrators Jane Ray and Willie Ryan. At the same time his interest in Ukiyo-e woodblock prints attracted him towards Japan. In 1987 he moved to Tokyo in search of the missing link between samurai and Sony, making it his home for the following 21 years.

Read more about John.

Awards & Honors:

  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • William Allen White Children's Book Award Master List, grades 3-5
  • NYSRA Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List, Intermediate grades
  • Land of Enchantment Book Award, Children's Book Master Reading List

Editorial Reviews:

Kirkus Reviews

Mary McHugh's placid life in the hard-rock gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colo., in the 1890s changes when her beloved father loses a leg in a mining accident. The once-lively man also loses heart, and Mary, whose spunk is undimmed by her confusion, tries to help the family recover by selling "family reminders," her father's well-executed wood carvings of memorable occasions and ordinary days in their lives. She and her mother also offer emotional strength, sometimes forcing him to escape from his depression. "[L]oosely based on the life of [the author's] grandmother" in Cripple Creek and on her great-grandfather, a hard-rock miner who lost his leg, the episodic story vividly describes the way family life changes when terrible events occur and how families can also recover given time, patience and love. Shelley's black-and-white cartoonish sketches don't add much to the strong text but neither do they diminish this warm family story with characters a reader might like to know.

The Horn Book Magazine

When Mary's cheerful, loving father loses a leg in an accident at the gold mine, he is despondent: no more jokes, rousing evenings at the patio, or artful whittling of the figurines he calls "Reminders" of the good times in their lives. Mary's strong, down-to-earth mother does her best, taking in other miners' laundry and refusing to give in to despair. But it's Mary who rescues the situation, proving to her father that he is not a "one-legged miner who carvers" but instead a "one-legged artist who used to mine." Although this slender book for younger readers is based on the life of the author's grandmother in 1890s Cripple Creek, Colorado, it doesn't lean too heavily on its historical fiction classification—we don't learn about the operation of a gold mine or follow every step in the late-nineteenth-century clothes-washing process. Young readers will instead identify with Mary's unhappiness at the changes in her father and her family, with her worries about money, and with her determination to help. (Because Mary's age is left unspecified, the novel would also make a good choice for reluctant older-elementary readers.) The cartoony illustrations and staid brown cover are a mis-match for the heartfelt text, but readers won't need them to see into Mary's world.

School Library Journal

Mining for gold in 1890s Cripple Creek, CO, is dangerous, yet it’s the way of life for the frontier families who call it home. When 10-year-old Mary McHugh’s father loses his leg in a mining accident, their peaceful existence is destroyed. The once-jovial man becomes sullen and depressed when he can no longer support his family, and Mary’s mother grapples with trying to make ends meet while keeping her subservient role in the household. Mary’s dad has always carved wooden “Reminders” of the family and their special times, and these carvings bring both pain and comfort to the child. The story alternates between the present and past as Mary remembers happier times. She tries desperately to remind her family members of them as she schemes for a way for her father to support them again. Shelley’s India ink and pen illustrations add to the historical feel of this gentle, yet gripping story. This is a heartwarming novel about overcoming hardship, but it may need to be booktalked or read to children, who may not discover this little gem on their own.

A Patchwork of Books

Have a reader just starting out on chapter books? Want a nice, wholesome family read aloud? Family Reminders, written by Julie Danneberg, is a very simple book, short in length, but big on characterization. Some illustrations, done by John Shelley, accompany the text and allow for an easy transition for readers between picture books and easy readers, to a true chapter book.

Christian Library Journal

Mary McHugh's happy family life is shattered by the shrill of a mine's disaster siren in Family Reminders, a beautifully written story set in the 1890s town of Cripple Creek, Colorado. Mr. McHugh loses more than his leg in the accident--to Mary's dismay, he no longer smiles, sings, or piano-dances. Mary finds comfort in her Reminders, wooden figurines her father carved to celebrate both special and ordinary events. The Wedding Reminder is "a carved likeness of Mama and Daddy on their wedding day." Another Reminder is a figurine of Mary that her father carved after she picked raspberries on a hot summer day.

As the weeks past, Mary tires of waiting for her dad to be happy again. She encourages him to pick up his carving knife and he begins making more Reminders. When the owner of Brown's Emporium buys Mary's Reminders, she helps her dad see that he is an artist. Music spills from the piano again.

Teacher and author Julie Danneberg's great-grandfather lost his leg in a mining accident. But she wisely allows Family Reminders to be Mary's story. The young girl narrates the events, interspersing them with happier memories from before her father's accident. Illustrator John Shelley's ink drawings hark back to the frontier days and are an entertaining accompaniment to Ms. Danneberg's delightful prose.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-320-6
ISBN: 978-1-58089-321-3

ISBN: 978-1-60734-502-2 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-237-3 PDF
For information about purchasing E-books, click here.

Ages: 8-12
Page count: 112
5 1/2 x 8 1/4

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