Lots of time on trains and subways this past week made for lots of great reading:
I finally got around to reading The Mighty Miss. Malone
, Christopher Paul Curtis’ most recent novel. The rave reviews and the Newbery Medal buzz had set high expectations, and I was not disappointed. I loved the main character, Deza Malone – just twelve years old, yet wise beyond her years. Deza ends her school year on a high note – her beloved teacher shares her high hopes and expectations for Deza’s future, and promises to work with Deza after school come September so that she can achieve her full potential. But the country is in the midst of the Great Depression, and Deza’s hometown of Gary, Indiana offers little in the way of jobs and hope. The Malones set out to find their own, personal Wonderful – wherever that may be…as long as they can stay together. Of course, the path to Wonderful is not easy, and Deza must keep the faith.
Curtis has created an unforgettable character in Deza – her strength, sense of humor and way with words (she does love her thesaurus – why use a boring little word when a fabulous one can be found?!) makes for a great reading experience. The Depression forced families to scatter to the winds in search of work and survival – and Curtis paints a vivid picture of the world of hobos and shanty towns. In spite of all the hardships the Malones face, they have each other…and an unstoppable sense of optimism. I just loved his book, and I know my students will, too. Curtis’ The Watsons Go To Birmingham is one of our all-time favorites, and now Miss. Malone sits right alongside as another beloved must-read and re-read.
. is Caroline Starr Rose’s novel in verse. May, like Deza, is such a special young lady. Sent off across the Kansas prairie to work at a neighbor’s homestead, she holds on to her father’s promise to return for her by Christmas. But the young couple she must tend to have troubles of their own – the lonely prairie life is not for the wife and she leaves, quickly followed by his distraught husband. May is left on her own, with no way to get word of her desperate situation to her family as winter sets in and the wolves begin to prowl around the sod house.
Rose’s elegant verse is just a beautiful vehicle for this story – and it adds so much depth to the parallel storyline of May coming to understand and accept her dyslexia. Like Out of the Dust, this is a book to be marveled at for its craft and enjoyed for its unusual story.
George Washington’s Birthday, A Mostly True Tale written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by Barry Blitt is a charming account of, yes, George Washington’s seventh birthday. It’s a busy day in the Washington household, and George is convinced that no one remembers his special day. He goes about his business, practicing his handwriting, doing his lessons, and finds the time to chop down a cherry tree and heave a small boulder across the Rappahannock River (the last two are among the reasons for the book’s subtitle), hoping that someone will remember his seventh birthday. And…they do! And..we still do!
And the Soldiers Sang
written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Gary Kelly is a stunning account of a real life miracle. On Christmas of 1914, soldiers on both sides of the long stretch of the Western Front set down their guns to celebrate one night of peace and hope. Owen Davies, the fictional narrator of this true episode in history, raises his beautiful voice to sing “First Noel” across the battle weary expanse of no-man’s land. A German soldier sings in response, inviting an evening of camaraderie. As Owen dares to wonder if this truce is able to stop the fighting for good, his life is claimed by a sniper, “carrying me from the earth on that voyage all creatures must take.” Poetically written and illustrated with hauntingly beautiful paintings, this is a powerful book.