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Kaleidoscope: Shapes and Colors of Childhood

Book review by Sister Katherine Kraft

Kraft, Bill. Kaleidoscope: Shapes and Colors of Childhood. Sauk Rapids, Minnesota, Gorham Publishing, Centralia, Washington, 2010, 162 pages, hardcover.


Many persons who grew up in small mid-western towns in the 1940s and 1950s will find themselves identifying with Kraft's book of memoirs. In vivid prose, Kraft recalls annual July 4 parades, Church bazaars, small town baseball rivalries, weekend movies and ballroom dancing as the only regular forms of recreation. Sadly, that world is quickly disappearing, if not already gone.

The book captures the ethnic flavor of a segment of rural America, namely, Strasburg, North Dakota, familiar to the 60+ generation of Lawrence Welk fans. Pride in one's German or Dutch heritage was strong, preserved in celebrations brought from Alsace Lorraine, Ukraine or Holland. People were bi-lingual, having learned English from their children.

Life far from urban centers encouraged creativity and heightened imaginations. Kids spent most of their free waking hours outdoors: "King of the Hill" or "Run Goose, Run" in the winter; "Kick the Can" or "Captain, May I" in summer, often inventing games of their own. Without Wal-mart or K-mart, Halloween costumes were original, made out of whatever was available at the general store. A favorite Sunday activity was cranking out homemade ice-cream, or coaxing a nickel Coke out of the machine near the gas station.

Everybody knew your name and to whom you belonged, and if you were really misbehaving in a major way, felt free to admonish you. Everybody had a garden, enjoying fresh organic produce long before it was in vogue.

If even some of this sounds familiar, you'll love the book. On the other-hand, if you've always wondered how anyone could survive growing up in the middle of nowhere, this book may help you understand, and even appreciate that increasingly rare but wonderful heritage.

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