A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt

A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt

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Written by Carmine Coco deYoung
Random House, 1999
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Set during the Great Depression, A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt is a heart-warming story of an 11-year-old girl’s courageous attempt to save her family’s home.

The Great Depression has disrupted the safe and secure life that Margo Bandini has grown to enjoy in the small town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her parents and younger brother. In school, Margo has studied Black Thursday and the Domino Effect. She has watched hobos come to her house for food, witnessed “Sheriff Sale” signs on the houses of her neighbors on Maple Avenue, and has taken notice when Papa comes home with produce as payment for repairing shoes.

But, the dark days of the Great Depression take on a new meaning when she comes home from school and sees a “Sheriff Sale” sign on her house. Desperate to save her family from economic despair, Margo writes to Eleanor Roosevelt for help. When she receives an unexpected reply, Margo scores a victory for her family and learns the true meaning of brotherhood.

A Note from Me
A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt is based on true stories handed down in my family. During the era of the Great Depression, the well-being of the Coco Family was threatened. Grandfather, Michael Coco, dictated a letter to the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, which was penned in the handwriting of my father’s older sister, Mary. Grandfather Coco did not ask for money, but for the gift of time. His plea for help was answered.


  • Recipient of the Marguerite de Angeli Prize, 1997
  • Keystone to Reading Book Award, 2000-2001
  • Nominated for State Book Awards in Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts, Florida, South Carolina, Washington, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, and Tennessee
  • Teacher’s Choice, International Reading Association, 2000
  • A Booklist “Top 10 First Novels” of 1999
  • Selected by the Children’s Book Council and the National Council of Social Studies as a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People

“First-time author De Young uses her own family history to create a Depression-era story about first-generation Italian-Americans living in Johnstown, Pa., in 1933. Eleven-year-old Margo Bandini, her parents and young brother, Charlie, face losing their house if they do not find a way to pay back the bank loan used to cover hospital expenses for Charlie’s emergency leg operation. In a letter, Margo appeals to Eleanor “Everywhere” Roosevelt, the person she admires most, for help. Her teacher (who moonlights as a reporter and knows the First Lady) provides a swift, personal delivery of the letter and soon Margo receives a reply that restores her faith in miracles and resolves the crisis…this historic novel is successful in conveying the climate of the times: the “domino” effect of the steel mill cutting back workers’ hours translating into failing businesses and the necessity of neighbors relying on one another for support during hard times. Margo emerges as an admirable heroine whose actions reveal a generous heart and determination to help her family hold on to their home.”—Publishers Weekly

“Based on a true family story, this novel…creates a strong sense of place and time, when the Depression was felt up to the front porch of a loving family home.”—Booklist

“This Depression-era story is rich with the details of life in the small mining and steel town of Johnstown, PA. When her family is threatened with losing their home and business because they are unable to pay their bank loans, 11-year-old Margo Bandini writes a desperate letter to Mrs. Roosevelt as part of a class assignment. Margo has read about the First Lady’s interest in children and her visits to people all over the world and hopes that the woman might find a way to save her home. With a little help from Margo’s teacher, who is also a newspaper writer and a friend of Mrs. Roosevelt’s, the letter gets the attention of the First Lady, who then arranges with the bank to refinance the family’s loan as a part of the New Deal relief program. The outcome of this plot may seem outlandish, yet this novel is based on events that actually occurred in the author’s family. The strong and believable female characters, the smooth integration of historical facts into the story, and the compelling first-person narrative make this a good choice for social-studies reading, historical-fiction assignments, or book discussion.”—School Library Journal

“Historical details are smoothly woven into the text, and Margo is a strong heroine.”—Horn Book Guide

“De Young weaves this heartwarming Depression-era episode around a true family story. When Margo Bandini, 11, learns that her family is about to lose their home, she takes advantage of a class assignment to write a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, enclosing her father’s medal from WWI and asking for help. Writing in a smooth, unornamented style, the author fleshes out the tale with an extended hunt for Margo’s missing little brother Charlie that teaches her not to prejudge the hoboes who pass through town; provides a light dusting of background information about the Great Depression’s causes and effects through Margo’s reading of newspapers; slips in a surpriseMargo’s fifth-grade teacher, Miss Dobson, and her favorite journalist, E.D. Kirby, turn out to be one and the same; and ends on a happy notethe Bandinis get to keep their house after the local bank manager gets a call from the White House. The plot turns in plausible directions, and readers will find amiable characters here, as well as a clear picture of the time’s anxieties and hardships.”—Kirkus

“Stories with happy endings are always heartwarming, but it’s an additional bonus when they are based on fact. This story takes place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1933. Margo lives there with her parents and brother. Her father has a shoe repair business. As the economic hard times filter down through the community, Margo’s father gets less and less money for the work he does. He is a kind man who lets his customers pay what they can, and his family suffers. Finally, because they can not make their mortgage payments, the bank starts proceedings to repossess their home. At school, Margo is given an assignment to find a newspaper article about someone who has inspired others about the prospects for a brighter future. Margo has always admired Mrs. Roosevelt and decides to write to Mrs. Roosevelt and tell her about their family dilemma. Mrs. Roosevelt did respond with help. The real life rescue came from the New Deal relief program–the Home Owners Loan Corporation. “—Children’s Literature