Book by Mary Childers
Review by Dr. Tiffany N. Labon
Culverhouse College of Commerce Student Services
The University of Alabama
A classic, captivating, pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps story, Mary Childers’ Welfare Brat chronicles the life of her, her mother, and her six brothers and sisters in New York during the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Each chapter of the book described various situations and happenings that occurred to her and her family such as reading Shakespeare, moving across town with her family, seeing her father who was no longer with her family, and experiencing the riots that captivated America’s attention at that time. It was from these experiences that Mary realized at an early age that getting an education and attending college would be her ticket out of the poverty-stricken environment that she was raised in, as well as, setting an example for her younger brother and sisters.
The author gives details of how she took the challenges presented to her and quickly learned how to balance living and functioning in a world of the haves and the have-nots. As she grew older, she came to believe that her and her friends were “debutantes facing a world that is eager to welcome [them] as long as [they’re] punctual and properly dressed, even if we do have to wipe the smiles off our faces before the train deposits us back home in the Bronx” (p. 188). She continued to make the best of the circumstances that were given to her, so that she could change her future while overcoming the obstacles of that day. The author gives her reader the opportunity to learn why she made the decisions that she did and how those decisions influenced the relationships in her life, not only in the past, but in the future as well.
Whether our students come from a family where everyone has gone to college or they are a first-generation college student, this book gives insight into how a person’s background can influence the decisions that they make upon arriving on campus. I believe that an advisor can learn how to be sensitive to the needs of their students and understand that not all of their students are alike. This book can also aid in the advising role by relaying to the advisor that each student has different needs and their formative years at home with their parents have shaped their viewpoints. However, we, as advisors, have the opportunity to show them a new world to explore while they are on our campuses.
I believe that one of the stronger features of this book was the timeline approach that Childers took in retelling her story of how she became the woman who embarked upon the path that led her to where she is today, holding a Ph.D. in English literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo. However, I also believe that one of the drawbacks of the book was the fact that she allowed the reader to get the details of her childhood, but did not give more insight into the challenges and victories that she experienced while she was in college and upon graduation. Although this book would not be a part of my top ten (10) resources, I would recommend this book to others because it would give them an opportunity to gain insight on how one individual overcame her upbringing to change the course of her future.
Welfare Brat: A Memoir. (2006). Book by Mary Childers. Review by Dr. Tiffany N. Labon. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. 262 pp., $11.99 (paperback), ISBN # 978-1-582-34589-5