Thursday, November 11, 2010


Most of what I am reading right now is nonfiction, and more specifically CYBILS nonfiction picture book nominees. Every once in a while, though, I feel the need to escape into a great story. And boy, oh boy, did I find a great one today!

Charlie Anne a tween-ish age girl, whose mother has just died in childbirth. The family, like many others, is struggling to survive during the Great Depression, and her father and an older brother, leave the family home and head north to work on a road-building crew. Charlie Anne, as well as her older sister Ivy, her younger sister Birdie, and her brother Peter are left in the care of Cousin Mirabel, who carries around The Charm of Fine Manners in her pocket and reads it to Charlie Anne several times each day. Charlie Anne's best friends are the family cows; but then Old Mr. Jolley, the widower across the street gets married. His new wife, Rosalyn, is raising Phoebe, an African American girl, who is about Charlie Anne's age. Much to the displeasure of their small town, Charlie Anne and Phoebe become friends…

This is a book that works on a million different levels for me. First, it's a really nice piece of historical fiction. Charlie Anne's town is probably not unlike a million others of that era-- almost all of the men have gone north to find work, the women are at home struggling to maintain family farms and feed and clothe their families on almost nothing. Charlie Anne has two dresses- one that she wore to her mother's funeral, and the other out of an old feedsack. Her underwear is also made out of feedsacks. Mirabel feeds the family mostly from the garden. Vinegar pie is a huge delicacy. It's also a book about Civil Rights and race relations. Phoebe is the first black person that Charlie Anne has ever known. Many of the townspeople, sadly even at church, react very strongly to the young girl.

Second, THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE is a book about learning to read (a book about reading- can it get any better??!!?). Charlie Anne seems to have some kind of learning disability. Miss Moran, the town's previous teacher, has traumatized the young girl over her reading difficulties, making her do things like sit under the teacher's desk with spiders, stand in a trash can, and wait in a woodshed for the superintendent to beat her. Charlie Anne is terrified of school, but under Rosalyn's patient tutelage, things start to change.

Third, Charlie Anne is a great character, plucky and tough. She would much rather be outside milking cows or measuring the corn than inside doing the million household chores that Cousin Mirabel has in mind. She's fascinated by Rosalyn and Phoebe, who are the first women that she has ever seen in pants. In Phoebe, Charlie Anne finds a kindred spirit and blood sister. At one point, Charlie Anne is gutsy enough to defend her friend in front of the entire congregation.

Finally, THE WONDER OF CHARLIE ANNE is a book about loss. Charlie Anne has lost her mom, her dad and brother are gone, and then her other brother is sent to Boston to live with an aunt. She seeks solace in talking to the cows and also to her mother. Phoebe has also lost her mom. I can think of at least three girls I know that could use this book, just to know that they are not alone…

A really, really, really good read on a snowy school holiday…

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