Monday, February 28, 2011

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over Manifest has been sitting in my TBR pile for a while, but after it won the Newbery Medal last month, it moved to the top. What a lovely book.

Abilene Tucker is 12 years old in 1936, when she goes to live with strangers in a town she's heard stories about her entire life - Manifest, Kansas. Still reeling from her father's decision to send her to Manifest, she soon becomes enthralled in the story of town and the ghosts from the past - 1918 to be exact - that still seem to haunt it.

Moon Over Manifest is a story within a story. While Abilene is struggling with her father's abandonment, she furiously searches for clues about him. How did he know Pastor Shady with whom he sent her to live? Why doesn't anyone in a town full of stories ever mention his name? Will he ever come back to get her?

A historical fiction novel, the book offers glimpses of two different time periods - the 1918 town that is not only struggling under the control of greedy coal lords but that is also sending its young men away to war. Then in 1936 when Abilene arrives, it's in the grips of the Great Depression. A once bustling town is rundown, and even the vibrant people of 1918 seem to have lost their hearts.

What's particularly well done about the book is the way the story is told through different voices - Abilene's, a box full of letters written in 1918 from Ned Gillen to his friend Jinx , a weekly newspaper column written by the vivacious Hattie Mae, and stories from the diviner Miss Sadie. Each source has a unique voice and plays a crucial part in weaving the story together.

And the cast of characters is wonderfully developed -

  • Pastor Shady is part pastor, part saloon owner and seems to live up to his name. 
  • Miss Sadie is a Hungarian diviner who is surrounded by mystery. 
  • Sister Redempta is a strict schoolteacher in Manifest and is also the town midwife. 
  • Hattie Mae is a spunky newspaper columnist with a big heart. 
  • Ned Gillen is a young aspiring track star who never really knows his true origins. 
  • Jinx is a feisty trouble-maker who ends up in Manifest and may just find a home there. 
  • And then there's Abilene the heroine of the story who is also trying to find a place in life and maybe even a place to call home. 
I would say that this book is complex, and younger readers may have some difficulty piecing it all together, but more mature readers will have no problem.  Some teens will definitely identify with Abilene's search to fit in.

There are funny moments, scary moments, and heartwrenching moments that, put together, make for a very enjoyable and beautiful read.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe

One morning, Chico Bon Bon, the industrious monkey with a most impressive tool belt hears a very loud noise "Arooga! Boom! Clang! Clang!" echoing through his tree house. He sets about to fix it, but just can't figure out what the noise is - the wind, a super noisy family of squirrels, a hunter chopping down his tree? As the day continues, the noise doesn't let up. After conducting a thorough search, he finally finds the culprit in his laundry chute - an elephant named Clark. Once he's found Clark, he sets upon a detailed plan to rescue him - a plan that involves bananas and a homemade contraption. Not only does he get rid of the noise, but he makes a new friend. While we never find out how Clark got into the chute because Chico thinks it would be rude to ask, we do get a book full of giggles and fun.

Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem is Chris Monroe's 2009 follow up to Monkey With a Tool Belt (see my review here), a book where Chico Bon Bon has to save himself from a devious organ grinder who wants to make him a circus monkey. Chris Monroe is so very clever and creates books that entertain both adults and children. With every read, we find something new in the detailed illustrations, and my daughter absolutely loves to yell out "Arooga! Boom! Clang! Clang!" on cue. While there are so many pictures to adore, our favorite is when Chico discovers the super huge elephant squished into the tiny laundry chute. It induces giggles every single time.

If you're not familiar with Chico Bon Bon, I highly recommend the Monkey With a Tool Belt books. They are full of fun and spark many opportunities for laughter, commentary, and interaction.  

Publisher: Carolrhoda Books (April 2009) | ISBN-13: 978-0822592471 | Source: Review copy from publisher

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