According to Ruth Graham in a recent Slate.com article, I should be embarrassed to be reading YA and/or children’s books. I don’t know Ms. X, but her bullying tactics mean nothing to me. I love reading good books no matter what the age of the intended reader. I especially love reading the same books my grandchildren read.
Today I’m featuring a book that the American Library Association believes was the top book for children in 2011. Guess what, Ms. Graham? The library lets anyone check out the books – even women in their seventies! Here’s Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool:
It’s 1936 and twelve-year-old Abilene finds herself in Manifest, Kansas for the summer. Abilene and her dad have moved around a lot, just trying to survive. With the Great Depression times are tough everywhere. But now, Abilene’s dad sends her to stay with his old friend Shady while he takes a railroad job. She’s not even sure he’ll come back for her at the end of the summer.
But, one night Abilene finds a cigar box hidden under a loose floorboard in her bedroom. Inside the box she finds some small mementos, a spy map, and a stack of old letters that mention a local spy named The Rattler. This is just what Abilene needed to spark her interest in the people of this hot and dusty little town.
Soon Abilene makes friends with Lettie and Ruthanne. The three girls are off on a secret mission to find the spy known as The Rattler. They know they are on the right track when a notice is attached to the tree house. It says: Leave Well Enough Alone. Of course, the girls are even more determined to solve this mystery.
Abilene is reluctant but willing to call upon Miss Sadie, the reclusive older woman who lives behind the wrought-iron gate that says “Road to Perdition.” The house looks very strange and Abilene is scared. She’s been told that Miss Sadie is a gypsy fortune-teller.
Abilene discovers that Miss Sadie is actually a diviner, a person who has the ability to read nature. It seems to Abilene that Miss Sadie can also read her mind. It is from Miss Sadie’s storytelling abilities that Abilene learns the meaning of the items in the hidden cigar box. The letters in the box, from Ned to Jinx, parallel the stories Miss Sadie tells.
From Miss Sadie’s stories, the clues, and a bit of sleuthing, Abilene and her friends are able to solve the mystery behind all the secrets in the letters, the mementos, and in the town of Manifest itself. By the end of the summer Abilene is able to come to terms with her own personal questions as well.
Chapters in Moon Over Manifest alternate between the happenings in 1936 and 1918. They are told from Abilene’s perspective as well as the narrative of Miss Sadie’s stories. Interspersed are columns from the local newspaper and letters from Ned to Jinx. The technique works well. It keeps the story moving quickly.
I don’t think it was meant to be humorous or nostalgic but that’s how I saw it. Middle readers, however, will probably see it as good historical fiction with a touch of mystery and adventure thrown in. My only negative was that part of the ending seemed just a little bit too pat. It’s a minor part and shouldn’t stop anyone from enjoying this story.
Okay, tell me the truth. Do you read children’s and/or young adult books? If so, do you feel embarrassed by it?