Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wild & Wonderful Wednesday: Newbery 2011

Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Press, 2010
Grades 5 and up
Reviewed from personal copy

I chose to review this book on my Wild & Wonderful Wednesday feature, despite the fact that this book takes place in the United States.  I chose this book for a couple of reasons.  First, many of the characters in this book are immigrants who have come to Manifest to work in a mine.  Second, the location of this story (the town of Manifest) plays such a key role in the story, and that is what geography is all about, the interactions of human beings and their environment.  Would this story have been the same if located somewhere else? No, without the town of Manifest, the story would have been very different indeed. While the town is fictional, Vanderpool explains in the end notes that it is very much based on real people and real places.

Abilene Tucker, a twelve-year-old girl, who has lived most of the life on the move with her father, Gideon, arrives in Manifest, Kansas, her father's 'home town' very unsure about whether she wants to be there.  While checking out the former saloon/church that she will be living in, she discovers a hiding place under the floorboards in her room.  Inside the hiding place is an old cigar box containing some letters and a few odd objects of seemingly no value.  When Sister Redempta, the local school teacher and midwife, assigns Abilene to write a story, due in the fall, Abilene has a hard time believing that this town is any different than the dozens of other towns she has past through.  She soon learns differently.  A run-in with the local Hungarian 'diviner' leads Abilene eighteen years into the town's past and into the  life of a young boy named Jinx and his friend, Ned as well as a town full of people each with their own story to tell.  A powerful story about the power of a story to connect people despite all their differences.

This book integrates present and past as smoothly as any I've ever read.  In fact, the characters from the past almost overshadow the characters in the present.  Almost, but not quite.  This is very much Abilene's story about family and hope and community.  The main theme, I felt, was about how human beings often make assumptions that prove to be incorrect and only by taking the time to look deeper can we truly get to know each other.  The writing becomes secondary to the journey the reader makes, hoping, like Abilene, to find a place called home.  I find this book very much worthy of the Newbery Medal that it received.  This book would make a very thought-provoking read aloud for any American History class.

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