I discovered this book as a young teen in my local bookstore and read it until the cover fell off. Dicey Tillerman is a relatable, plucky heroine who handles her unexpected promotion to parent with aplomb. Her siblings James, Maybeth, and Sammy all have well-developed personalities and go through realistic reactions to their plight. Kids can glean some educational value from the things the siblings, particularly Dicey and James, must learn to do on their journey. This includes handling money and deciding what foods will sustain them on a small budget. There's also a lot of great discussion fodder in the book regarding what makes a family and a home.
Dicey regularly lies in order to keep her siblings from being split up. While that's understandable in context, it warrants discussion of whether she had other choices and if not, why not. Sammy and James both steal, but it is not condoned. The Tillermans' mother abandons them and is assumed to be mentally ill; while not discussed, this could be upsetting for young readers.
The children briefly stay with Eunice, a cousin who sees them as a burden and makes no secret of it. She openly favors the girls while belittling the boys. Eunice is a rigid Catholic, and her behavior maligns the Church. Additionally, her priest's attitude toward the Tillermans is negative. The children are regularly called names like "bastards," and one child is referred to as "retarded."
The children briefly work for an abusive man with a dangerous dog. Sammy talks about fighting in school in defense of his family. All that being said, this is a great book for the right age group.