The Button Boat

Doubleday ISBN 0-385-06824-7

Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout’s The Button Boat, a Depression-era tale about two young kids and their mean drunk of a father, who catch clams on a Midwestern river for a meager living. But bank robbers drive suddenly into their lonely lives with a valise full of stolen money. It’s up to these go-ahead youngsters to do what their deceased mother taught them, to live honestly and hope for better lives in a clean home with clean clothes and a chance to go to a real school with regular kids from decent families. That’s brother Auston and sister Dicksie’s big gamble and it’s fun, too!

"Bushwah!" shouts Auston. Hold your hats, folks. Off we go on a rollicking adventure down river in a clamming boat with Auston and his older sister Dixie, two of the sweetest, poorest, and smelliest kids you ever hope to meet. This is an old-time, thriller-chiller-killer-diller of a story, complete with bankrobbers, a daredevil hero, a villainess who drinks pink lemonade, a dog who drinks beer, a hateful stepfather who just plain drinks, and the two river kids who were tickled by a dream and opened up their shells just enough to get hooked before they could say, "What the Sam Hill goes on here?"

Will they escape from their drunken stepfather? Will they ever get to go to a real school? Can a black valise crammed full of money really change their lives? Can the sweet smell of character overcome the superstink of the icky, sticky clam? A Depression-era tale of action and suspense and kids' scary fun which will remind the reader quite a bit of the 1955 famous thriller film starring Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish (directed by Charles Laughton), The Night of the Hunter, based on Davis Grubb's novel.

The Button Boat was optioned for a possible TV-Movie by the late TV producer, David Victor, and an adaptation was done by Emmy-winner John McGreevey. Film rights have reverted to the Swarthout estate. Teleplay available from Hoodwinks Productions.


"What a razzle-dazzle ring-a-ding movie it would make!" Kirkus Service

"Two beaten-down children of the Depression triumph over a wicked stepfather in a story that is melodramatic, suspenseful and funny." Outstanding childrens' books of 1969, selected by Polly Goodwin, Book World.

"Here is a tale with flavor. Its authors tell, with rare good humor, the story of a brother and sister whose world is the river where they fish for clams, for inedible clams that their drunken stepfather sells (the story takes place in pre-plastic days) to make buttons. The sister fishes, too, for words to teach her younger brother, to redeem the pledge she had made to their mother to take care of Auston. This is going to make a dandy movie, a dramatic, lusty movie for lucky children, that is if a director like Robert Radnitz gets his honest hands on it." Publishers Weekly

"The Button Boat is a sort of Bonnie and Clyde of a juvenile -- an exuberant story set in 1934 and involving two poor, smelly kids, their drunken stepfather, bank robbers, a peace officer, a beer-swilling dog, and a clamming boat 'so square at both ends that only the river knows whether it's coming or going.' " Some Notable Children's Books, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, the New York Times.

"Melodramatic, with silent-picture type captions for chapter headings and plenty of wrong-era expressions such as 'banana oil,' 'bushwah,' and 'abadaba,' this is a very funny story in which the good guys triumph in the end. Children today are said not to be interested in the Depression. They will be unable to resist the gritty Dicksie and her little brother, Auston, and unable to put the book down after the first page." Jane Clarke, Washington Post Book World

"This is an enthralling book for intelligent young readers of nine upwards and while the language may not belong to 'England Lit' it is racy and stimulating. The illustrations by Suzanne Verrier are also extremely good and The Button Boat should go on the short list for home and school libraries." Irish Independent, Dublin

"The Button Boat is pure delight. The husband and wife co-authors, have produced a book which is almost a work of art. Its racy, descriptive style is way out and great fun. The illustrations by Suzanne Verrier are superb." Manchester Evening News, Great Britain

"This is a cleverly-written book. It is full of energy and colour, a literary extravaganza…There are moments of quiet beauty, of farcical comedy, of subtle social comment. In short, the book is in many ways brilliant." Children's Book Review, Great Britain

"How refreshing to find among this year's crop of early readers some books of outstanding quality. All too often our young readers have had to make do with books of mundane ordinariness that have done nothing to extend their boundaries beyond the cozy worlds in which they live. Seldom, until now, have they had the opportunity of being thrown into the harsh, poverty-stricken days of the American Depression or been able to live the lives of two smelly little kids who dig for clams and try to outwit their hateful, drunken stepfather. The Button Boat by Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout provides all this in a fascinating, down-to-earth, thrilling story that carries the reader along like a tidal wave and cannot fail to sink deep." Audrie Godsell, the Birmingham Post, Great Britain

"Glendon Swarthout, the well-known American writer and his wife, Kathryn, have combined to produce their second widely-distributed book, The Button Boat. It is complemented by excellent line and wash drawings by Suzanne Verrier. A story with a social conscience about depression in the deep south, it features two dirty, smelly, lovable children. A fun-filled story that will influence every reader." Rand Daily Mail, South Africa