Summer Reading Book #3: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, 2011 Newbery winner.
Abilene is sent to live in Manifest, Kansas during the Great Depression. She’s grown up on the road with her father butshe’s turning into a young lady. So he sends her back to his home town to live with Pastor Shady, who isn’t much of a Pastor at all. In fact, he’s a bit of a bootlegger with a good heart. Everyone in town seems to have a good heart, even the creepy fortuneteller who Abilene grows to love. The reader grows to love everyone, but especially Abilene who is a perfect tween heroine: smart, a little quirky and very independent. I am totally a sucker for those characters.
I was warned by some librarians (who shall not be named) that the switching between time periods was confusing and that the character list at the beginning of the book is totally necessary. While I will never turn down a good character list (and they can really help younger readers), I had little trouble keeping track of everyone. This could be because I had a chance to read this book in large chunks. Moon Over Manifest is not the kind of book that can be read in short snatches, 2 minutes at the grocery store, 5 minutes before bed, etc. The time period switches were denoted by different fonts, which always helps. Mostly, I was as interested as Abilene in hearing the stories from her father’s childhood. That’s what made it easy to follow.
Having read 2 out of 4 Newbery Honor book–One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm–I have a lot of good, award-winning historical fiction starring tween girls to compare Moon Over Manifest to. While One Crazy Summer is my favorite of the 3, Moon Over Manifest comes in an easy second. The top 2 on my list are deeper, exploring issues and themes that sometimes don’t get a lot of attention in books for this age group, from mothers that really just don’t want to be moms to a father’s real motivations. Turtle in Paradise, while it takes place during the Great Depression, has been recommended lately as a “beach read for the younger set” with great, snappy writing to keep kids engaged, especially reluctant readers.
Bottom line: Watching Abilene grow over the summer, the reader is treated to a mystery AND a history lesson as part of a coherent storyline. I already know which middle school kids I’ll be recommending this one to!