Wednesday, January 6, 2010

a nice surprise

I can't tell you how much this little book took me by surprise. Why that should be so, I don't know. I mean it is a Newbery Medal winner. While I haven't had 100% good luck with the Newberys, I've certainly loved most of the ones I've read. And it's set during the Dust Bowl. This largely man-made environmental/human disaster simply fascinates me. Maybe partially because of stories of farm life in Nebraska during the Great Depression told by my father-in-law (though they mostly missed the dust storms). Probably partially because of having read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Anyway, when I think about it, I should have expected to enjoy this book...but I didn't. I didn't really expect to dislike it either, or I probably never would have read it at all. (My reason for reading it was because I needed a short literature selection to throw into our history unit before we get to The Grapes of Wrath.)

Anyway, here I am babbling away without really saying anything at all about the book. Yeah, that is my modus operandi, isn't it? So, the book. I absolutely loved it! I thought it was just a perfect little gem of a book. Told from the perspective of Billie Jo, a young teenager living in Oklahoma in the 1930s. It's written in free verse...which, had I known beforehand, might have scared me away. Glad I didn't know, because it turns out that I really loved its style. No one living through the Dust Bowl had an easy time of it, and Billie Jo's family was certainly no exception. And added to the extreme hardships of this life, Billie Jo experiences a much more personal tragedy. All of this could have led to a very depressing book, but honestly, it didn't. Sure, there was a great deal of sadness. I read much of this book in the waiting room at the kids' dentist's office, and as hard as I tried to fight back the tears, a couple of times I found a stray one sliding down my cheek. But it's one of those books that is very much about hope, about clinging to those things that bring you happiness, about perseverence, and about accepting change.

Here's a taste:

Foul as Maggoty Stew

Arley Wanderdale said
the rehearsals for Sunny of Sunnyside
shouldn't take me out of school
more than twice next week.

When I told Ma she got angry about
My missing school to play piano for some show.

Me and Daddy,
we're trying our best to please Ma,
for fear of what it might do to the baby if we don't.
I don't know why she's
so against my playing.
She says that school is important,
but I do all right in school.
I know she doesn't like the kind
of music I play,
but sometimes I think she's
just plain jealous
when I'm at the piano
and she's not.
And maybe she's a little afraid
of me going somewhere with the music
she can't follow.
Or of the music taking me
so far away one day
I'll never come home.
Whatever the reason, she said I couldn't do it.
Arley had to get somebody to take my place.

I do as she says. I go to school,
and in the afternoons I come home,
run through my chores,
do my reading and my math work at the
kitchen table
and all the while I glare at Ma's back with a scowl
foul as maggoty stew.

March 1934

January 6th "Good Stuff"

*This bumper sticker I saw on someone's car today: "Loving Kindness is my religion."

*Having a very productive morning at the library while Annie did her volunteering.

*Starting Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation...sooooo good! And graphic novels period. And the Graphic Novels Reading Challenge. And two of my bestest friends in the whole wide world who are co-hosting the challenge.


  1. I picked this out of the library once, but the poetry DID scare me away...

  2. Lunch was pretty damn good today, too. Thanks for suggesting it!

    And, I gotta tell you how much I love the new blog! It's awesome. As are you for driving me to the bus stop today.

  3. I think I may have to stop reading your blog. OK, Not really!!!!! But every book post you do makes me want to read the book and I have WAY too long of a list already! Actually, I love that I can always go to your blog to find a book that looks good!

    And I love Rich's two are just the coolest couple! :)

  4. I looked at this book when Amanda picked it up at the library and then turned it back in, and have thought I'd like to read it since :). I'm glad it ended up being good!

  5. I don't think I'd even heard of this before! *adds to list* I know just what you mean about being glad you didn't know it was going to be a novel in verse :P That's how I felt about Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block :P

  6. I have never heard of The Dust Bowl. Now adding it to my list too. Bad Deb!

  7. Because I really do need more books on my wishlist, don't I? ^-~ That sounds fascinating, Debi! I'm glad you wound up enjoying it! ^-^