Cover image for Tadpole
White, Ruth, 1942-
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
208 pages ; 23 cm
In rural Kentucky in 1955, Serilda Collins, single mother of four lively girls, discovers that her orphaned nephew is being subjected to brutality.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.9 6.0 68684.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Large Print Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A Newbery Award-winning AuthorFor the Collins girls, the summer of 1955 starts off as normal as can be. Kentucky is the most popular girl in town. Virginia is the prettiest and Georgia the smartest; but the youngest, Carolina, has yet to find her own special place. Their financial troubles are softened by the arrival of their favorite cousin, Tadpole, a charismatic thirteen-year-old with a knack for guitar playing.(AR) For ages 8 through 12.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-8. Ten-year-old Carolina Collins has three loud, boisterous older sisters, each exceptional in her own way and well known in their small, 1950s Appalachian town. Carolina feels like the "runt" and "nobody at all," until a beloved, orphaned cousin, Tadpole, comes to stay. Fleeing a cruel guardian, Tadpole hides with Carolina, her sisters, and single mother, winning the hearts of the neighbors with his fun-loving generosity and charm. He also transforms the Collinses' house, gently encouraging the girls to appreciate and support their mother and helping Carolina to find her special talent. The story is written in Carolina's age-appropriate voice, and the colorful, hill-country language will be familiar to White's fans, as will the warm portrayal of poor, small-town life and the appealing characters, especially the children who overcome abuse and discover their gifts. White also nicely captures a child's gradually widening view of the world, in which change is constant and mothers aren't just parents: they have insecurities, complicated histories, and even boyfriends of their own. --Gillian Engberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

White (Belle Prater's Boy; Memories of Summer) transports readers to 1955 in tiny Polly's Fork, Ky., for another memorable view of individuals who transmute their pain and suffering into compassion and even art. Carolina Collins, the 10-year-old narrator, feels ordinary beside her three older sisters: Kentucky is the popular one, Virginia the pretty one and Georgia the smart one. Even though she hasn't yet found her place, Carol feels lucky compared with her orphaned cousin, 13-year-old Tadpole. Carol's father may have deserted the family, but Carol's mother, Serilda, works hard to care for her girls. The story takes off when Tadpole shows up at the Collinses, having run away from the abusive uncle who is his legal guardian. Serilda, known for her lack of "spunk," surprises everyone with the fierceness of her efforts to protect Tad. Serilda is not the only one for whom Tad's presence prompts a discovery of hidden resources: Tad's intelligence and musical talent help Carol locate gifts of her own. Involving as the plot is, the power of White's work derives from her seemingly easy evocation of ordinary people as they stumble into enduring truths about human strength and vulnerability. Embedded in the homespun language (Carol, for example, describes preparations for a neighborhood picnic: "The Pughs, who owned a grocery store up the holler a piece from us, come by in their pickup.... They had closed up shop for the day, and brung pokes full of goodies"), are insights both finely honed and enriching. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8-The brash Collins girls don't have much but they have one another and their loving mama; their orphaned cousin Tadpole has only his daddy's guitar to comfort and sustain him. A gem of a novel about resilience and the ability to believe in oneself. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Tadpole 1 ONE DAY IN JUNE, Mama found this ad in the paper: permanent waves one $ Sat morn come early . And there was an address for a boardinghouse on Bee Street in Riverbend. "It's the only way we'll ever get curly hair," Mama proclaimed, "and don't my girls deserve to look as good as the town girls do?" We agreed that it was so. Mama's girls deserved such a treat. So on Saturday morning we got up early and walked to the highway to catch the eight o'clock bus into town. Striding tall in front of Mama, Kentucky led the way. She was fourteen that summer of 1955, the oldest and most popular of the four of us. Everybody loved Kentucky Collins. Sometimes she was called Ken. Virginia followed beside Mama. At twelve, she was the prettiest. She turned heads wherever she went. Sometimes we called her Gin. Behind Virginia and Mama, Georgia walked with me. Georgia was eleven, and the smartest. She made straight O's--for outstanding--on her report card every grading period. We were a mixed-up batch of English, Scotch-Irish, and German, with a little dab of Cherokee Indian throwed in on our daddy's side, which did not take, for we all had blond hair and blue eyes, fair skin and little bitty feet. By eight-thirty we were knocking on the door of the boardinghouse. A redheaded fat woman with bags under her eyes peeped out at us. She had not had her morning coffee, so she said we'd have to wait. "Y'all just set down out here," she told us, tossing her red head toward the porch. "And I'll be wid'ja in a jiffy." So we did what she told us to. We set down. The porch was long and shady, with lots of rocking chairs and gliders for the guests. "How come we gotta wait?" Virginia complained, and whenever Virginia Collins complained, she did it loud. In fact, LOUD was a word describing all of my sisters, and me too. We talked loud. We laughedloud. We cried loud. We quarreled loud. We sung loud. Yes, I'll have to admit that we were known near and far as "them loud-mouthed Collins gals." "Didn't the paper say come early?" Virginia wailed. "That's right," Georgia said. "The paper did say come early. Well, here we are!" "You put me in mind of Tadpole when you said that!" That come from me, Carolina, the ten-year-old runt, sometimes called Carol, and nobody at all. As usual, the mention of our favorite cousin, Tadpole Birch, shut everybody up, if only for a moment, and sent us into private pleasant memories. After a time Virginia broke the silence. "Yeah, he's always saying, 'Well, here we are!'" She opened her arms wide and chuckled. "Mama, when can we see Tadpole again?" I said. (Maybe I whined.) "I don't know, Carol. Since he moved in with his aunt and uncle at Feds Creek--well, you know, that's twenty-five miles down the river--and the Birches don't go much." Mama was just Mama. She was not loud. She worked in the kitchen of the Riverbend Hospital, cooking, washing dishes, and serving food to thesick people. She was the only mother we knew who got up every morning, except Saturday, and went to work. "They don't go at all," Kentucky said. "Poor Tadpole." "Yeah, poor Tadpole," Virginia agreed. "He loves to go places and see people, and there he is stuck with that old sourpuss and her tightwad husband. They don't ever crack a smile." "They go to bed at sunset so they won't have to burn the lights," Georgia said. "And they get up at the crack of dawn," I added, "to milk the cows, and feed the chickens and the pigs, and work in the fields." "Poor Tadpole," we agreed. When Tadpole was three years old, his mama, who was our mama's favorite sister, had died with the TB. A year later his daddy, who was a Birch, was killed in a mining accident. Nobody had wanted to keep that poor li'l ole orphan boy, and ever since he had been tossed around from one relative to another--a month here, three months there, six months someplace else. Except for short visits from Tadpole now and then, Mama never was on the circuit. With four girls to tend to by herself, she had her hands full, and nobody in the family had the heart to ask her to help. But she had some opinions just the same. For instance, she thought it was mighty fishy that as soon as Tadpole had turned thirteen in the spring, his Uncle Matthew Birch had suddenly wanted him permanent. "It's because he's old enough to work," she declared with some bitterness. "They'll work that poor boy to death." But the rest of the relatives were glad to be shed of the responsibility, and asked no questions. "We'll sign him over to Matthew, make it legal," they all agreed. Matthew Birch was Tadpole's daddy's brother. His wife's name was Lucy, and they used to have a boy the same age as Tadpole, but he died mysteriously when he was real young. We hadn't seen Tadpole since last April, when Uncle Daniel brung him to spend Easter Sunday with us. Shortly after that he went to live with the Birches. "Remember how he got his nickname?" I said. "He was down at the creek, and somebody dared him--" "Let me tell it!" Virginia butted in. "You'll mess it up." I yielded the floor like always, and Virginia picked up the story. "He was down at the creek with two of Uncle Luther's boys." "Yeah, it was Bruce and Walter," Georgia said. "They were damming up the water or something like that," Virginia went on, "and Tadpole mentioned that he was so hungry he could eat a mess of tadpoles." "No, Bruce said that first!" Kentucky interrupted. "That's how it started. And so Tadpole told him, 'I dare you to ketch one and eat it.'" "No, Walter dared Tadpole!" Georgia joined the argument. "Anyhow, somebody dared somebody." I squeezed in a word sideways. "Bruce and Walter dared Tadpole to swallow one of them tadpoles live," Georgia cried. "And he did!" "An hour later he threw it up, and ..." Kentucky yelled above everybody else. " ... it was still alive!" we all squealed together. There was muffled laughter from inside the house. "Sh ... hh," Mama said, putting her finger to her lips, but she couldn't keep the corners of her own mouth from curling up. "Still alive," Virginia repeated with a smile. "Yessiree," Kentucky added. "He said it was still flipping its tail. So they throwed it back in the creek." "And he's been Tadpole ever since," Georgia said. "What was his real name, Mama?" I said. "I forgit." "Winston Churchill Birch," said Mama, with pride. The four of us looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and bellowed, "Tadpole!" The screen door flew open and the red head popped out. "Okay, who's first?" We spent the next coupla hours being tortured with curling rods and permanent solutions that blistered our scalps, and hair dryers so hot we had to fan each other with cardboard fans. But it was for beauty's sake. The red head turned out to be a real beautician with a license and all, from Pikeville, and right clever about how to make a buck from these hill-billies in Riverbend. When we were done, we went outside and gulped fresh air, all of us as frizzy-headed as poodles, stinking of permanent solution, and with necks and ears that would glow in the dark. Red Head was working at fever pitch on five people behind us, and three more were waiting on the porch. Without a word, them three watched us five strutting proudly by in our new dos. "Early bird gets the worm," Virginia said prissily as she patted her curly head. One of the women giggled behind her summer gloves. Another one promptly stood up and beat us down the steps. In a minute she had disappeared up Bee Street. That shut us up--but only for a minute. We looked at each other, and shrugged. It was plain the woman had no taste. "That didn't take as long as I thought," Mama said when we were on the street. "It's only eleven-thirty." "Let's go to the show," I begged. "Oh, let's do." Georgia joined my team. " Rebel Without a Cause is playing! It's got James Dean in it!" Kentucky and Virginia didn't say anything. They were waiting to see how Mama would respond. We were headed toward River Street, where the movie theater was. "We can't," Mama said at last. "Why not?" we all cried. "Name me one good reason!" Georgia said crossly. "I can name lots of reasons," Mama said with a sigh. "Starting with those permanents. That was five dollars. Then there's the light bill that's already past due, and there's the insurance premium, and we owe Pugh's Mercantile where we've been charging groceries--" "You always do that!" I said crankily. "Yeah, the minute we ast for something, you start reciting a list of bills !" Georgia said, spitting out the word bills , like it put a bad taste in her mouth. "The bills always get paid somehow, don't they?" Virginia said. "Yeah, they do!" Kentucky said. "So they'll get paid this time, too!" I added. Mama hushed. We had won. Poor Mama! She hadn't a chance against the four of us. When I was two, our daddy had left her all alone to do for us the best she could. Sure, he had been proud enough to help her bring us into the world. He was the one who gave us these highfalutin names for states he'd been to. But then he left for one of those states, or somewheres else, and no one had seen him since. I was the only one who had no memory of him. "Why'd he go?" I asked over and over again to anybody who usta know him. Some people made like comedians and said, "To get away from y'all." Others shrugged and said, "I don't know." Or they said, "Nobody knows." Mama said, "He was tired." Tired? What does that mean? You get tired and you take a nap. Then you're over it. You don't leave forever 'cause you're tired, for crying out loud! We took our time strolling past the dime store and the drugstore, looking at ourselves in the glass. We held our heads a little higher, and patted our curls. Rebel Without a Cause was to start at noon. We bought tickets and went into a lighted theater and seated ourselves right in the middle. There were plenty of folks around us when we sat down, but when the reel got to rolling good, I noticed they moved away from us and settled along the walls. When we started whining for popcorn and fountain Cokes, Mama gave us the money without a word. We heard nothing about all the bills she had to pay. It was a miracle. After the movie, which was real good, we took the Black and White Transit back up the river that curled through the Kentucky hills, toward home. We got off at the mouth of Polly's Fork and walked a mile up the holler, where we lived in a tiny but tidy brown house. We had a kitchen, a living room, and two bedrooms with two beds in each one, our own well outside, a small back porch, and a larger front porch, where we spent a lot of time in warm weather. We were just about give out, and rounding the last curve before home, when we heard it--guitar music, and singing. Got a feeling called the blu ... uu ... ues, oh, Lord, Since my baby said goodbye. I don't know what I'm gonna do ... oo, All I do is sit and sigh. My sisters and me, we ran, forgetting how tired we were. And there he was sitting on our front porch, picking and singing. Our neighbors, the Pughs and the McCoys, were gathered in our yard. I've grown so used to you, somehow, But I'm nobody's sugar daddy now, And I'm lo ... oo ... onesome, I've got the love-sick blues! Oh, yeah, it was our favorite person in the world come for a visit. Tadpole grinned real big when he saw us, and opened his arms wide. "Well, here we are!" Copyright (c) 2003 by Ruth White Excerpted from Tadpole by Ruth White All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.