by Clare Vanderpool, published 2010
“Death is like an explosion,” Miss Sadie said, her accent thick, like the humid air that hovered heavy around me. “It makes people take notice of things they might have overlooked.”
If you think the quote above is too serious or heavy for your 11 to 14-year-old, then this book might not be your choice. This is a serious historical fiction children’s book, covering some pretty intense topics, all set in 1936 and earlier. From bootlegging to the Ku Klux clan, from immigrants to war casualties, this book is no light reading. Because of that, my first inclination was not to include the book. However, I stayed with it to the end, even though mid-way, I began skimming much of the detail. The ending was so rewarding that I had to change my mind about this children’s book. It is great children’s literature, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. It’s also a celebration of community, and the strength that it can offer.
The story has an intricate mystery that needs to be unraveled right from the start, and the threads of the story keep this children’s book moving chapter by chapter. It’s not always easy to follow, but the writing is terrific, and the main character is exceptional. You want it all to turn out okay for her. The heroine is wise beyond her years, but also very sensitive, brave, and an unusual role model for girls. She is just making things work for her life, as best she can. She loves and misses her father, and wants to find out who he is. She also learns what it means to have roots somewhere that can protect you.
I could see this book as part of a classroom assignment for 6th or 7th grade. It’s a great picture of “Americana”, one we don’t often run into. A Newbery Award winner, it also has a great cover, which is actually what drew me to the book!