Saturday, June 6, 2009


As some of you know, this year, I got hooked on Barbara O'Connor. I started with HOW TO STEAL A DOG, which I think is still my favorite. Over this year, I've read through five others- GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE, FAME AND GLORY IN FREEDOM, GEORGIA, TAKING CARE OF MOSES, and most recently, BEETHOVEN IN PARADISE. 

On Friday, while I was working through the twelve-hour-waiting-for-teenage-sons in a variety of different places challenge, I read MOONPIE AND IVY. The book opens with Pearl, a tweenish kind of kid, sitting on the front porch at her Aunt Ivy's house. Pearl's mom, Ruby, has dropped her off at Ivy's house in the middle of the night, then disappeared with no explanation. Pearl is left, for almost an entire summer, in a little tiny town, in the middle of nowhere, with her Aunt Ivy, who she had never met before. Ivy's closest friend is Moonpie, a neighbor boy who lives in a shack, just over the hill, with his elderly, and very ill grandmother. 

I love Barbara O'Connor's novels. Her main characters are the kids I know- kids whose families don't have money, kids who don't have new clothes and dance lessons and dads that come home every night. They are kids who do the best they can in these tough situations. Sometimes they make poor choices, then have to deal with the consequences. Usually, they are kids who find friends in unlikely places and end up surviving in spite of all of the hard stuff in their lives. 

I have to tell you, I didn't love MOONPIE AND IVY. It's not because it doesn't have great characters or a terrific story, because it does. It's a typical Barbara O'Connor- beautifully crafted, quirky and likeable characters, terrific dialogue, a book you don't want to put down until you get to the last page. It's a great read, and one that I will definitely share with kids when we go back to school in the fall.

I didn't love this book because it made me really, really sad. Pearl has a really hard life. The dropoff at her mom's house appears to be only the latest in a series of maternal missteps. Ivy is kind and caring, but she is very invested in taking care of Moonpie and his grandmother, not to mention a boyfriend that becomes a fiance over the course of the book. She sees the situation with Pearl as very temporary. At the end of the book, Pearl is with her mom and they are supposedly headed to a new life in Arizona, but it's not clear that that life will be any better than their previous situations. Ivy has given Pearl sunflower seeds to plant wherever she ends up (and also her phone number). Pearl bites into one of the sunflower seeds, deciding that her best hope is within herself.

That's what makes me so sad. All week I have been thinking of the kids I know and teach. For many of them, the best place in their lives, their happiest moments, the times when they feel safest and most secure, are at school. I wonder who is feeding them this summer, who is taking care of them, who is reading them stories. I don't want kids to have to be their only source of strength or hope…

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