Friday, April 29, 2011

REVIEW: Moon Over Manifest

Vanderpool, C.  (2010).  Moon Over Manifest.  New York:  Delacorte Press.

342 pages.

I finally got around to reading the current Newbery winner.  When Moon Over Manifest was announced as the winner, only one person I knew had read it (one person out of at least a dozen who spend their time trying to read as much children's literature as is humanly possible.  This book wasn't just a sleeper agent.  It was the unexpected chaos factor).  That one-person-out-of-a-dozen's reaction?  "Baaaaaaaaah, they keep picking books that are beautiful to adults but BORING to kids.  All of the people and their different names are confusing.  Bah humbug."

Okay, I'll admit.  I added the bah humbug to the end of that quotation.  As far as I know, I'm the only person (not in a famed Christmas novel or movie adaptation) who uses the phrase bah humbug.

Then, as other people I knew got around to reading the book before me, their comments pretty much confirmed what Person One already said:  "I'm an adult and I'm confused.  How will an eleven-year-old tolerate this book?"

So, when I finally got around to reading the book, I was a little hesitant.  I had my pen ready to take notes on who was who in the cast of characters.  Because I would defeat this book!  I will not be confused!

...for once.

Appetizer:  In May of 1936, Abilene Tucker has been sent to Manifest, Kansas to stay while her dad works on the railroad.  He'd often told her stories about the town where he grew up, but Abilene is surprised by the dusty town she finds.  on her first night there, she discovers a box of mementos.  Abilene begins to seek out the history of the objects and her father's history in the town.  She relies upon the stories of a psychic, old newspaper articles and other methods to try to learn her family's past.

Since the novel is set during the Great Depression, I was strongly reminded of Out of the Dust (but without poetry).  Visually, I also kept thinking about the TV show Carnivale (which is in no way appropriate for wee little ones), and which represents the 1930s well.

Moon Over Manifest is such a good social studies teacher book.  I could talk about the KKK, the Great Depression, World War I, treatment of immigrants, coal mining, newspaper writing, small town life, the importance of storytelling, prohibition, finding a sense of belonging or home...and on and on.

But there are also a lot of difficulties with the book.  There are flashbacks within flashbacks, some difficult vocabulary.  Characters who have multiple names.  And even though there is a list of characters at the beginning of the book, not everybody is included.  (If used as a read aloud, I would strongly recommend creating extensive character list worksheets to have students fill-out as we go through the book.)

I did enjoy the ending of the novel though.  The interweaving plots came together nicely and reinforced the importance of story, knowing the past and creating a sense of home.

I was left feeling as though the book took on more than it should have.  I thought that if it were trimmed down by a hundred pages, the humor and the central story would have been brought out more and would probably engage young readers a little more.  As it is, I was left reading a book that had some nice moments (KKK+Dark Outhouse+Plus switching toilet paper with poison ivy leaves=AWESOME!) but that also left me feeling pretty bored.  It was a book I felt like I had to get through, instead of one I was actually enjoying.  Which is not good.

As it is, I have to agree with my anonymous friend that I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  Moon Over Manifest feels like a winning novel for the adults, not for the kids.

Dinner Conversation:

"The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby.  I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.  The one just outside of town with big blue letters:  MANIFEST:  A TOWN WITH A RICH PAST AND A BRIGHT FUTURE.
I thought about my daddy, Gideon Tucker.  He does his best talking in stories, but in recent weeks, those had become few and far between.  So on the occasion when he'd say to me, "Abilene, did I ever tell you 'bout the time...?"  I'd get all quiet and listen real hard.  Mostly he'd tell stories about Manifest, the town where he'd lived once upon a time."  (p. 1)

"I knelt on the floor, and with a fairly easy push and pull, the floorboard popped up enough for me to get my fingers under it and pull it up.  It would have been the perfect hiding spot for one thing.  There was already something there.
I pulled the something out, slow and gentle, and held it up to the moonlight.  It was a Lucky Bill cigar box and inside were papers and odds and ends.  There were letters, thin and folded neat.  One bigger page looked like a map.  The odds and ends clanked inside the box."  (p. 21)

"Let us put your mind to the test as well.  It seems everyone is fond of a good story, dead bodies on trains notwithstanding.  Therefore, your assignment will be to write a story of your own.  You may select the topic and it will be graded for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and creativity.  It will be due September first."  (p. 31)

"An honest to goodness spy!" cried Lettie as the three of us crouched behind the wooden Indian in front of the hardware store.  "Right here in Manifest!  Why, I've never heard anything so exciting."  (p. 41)

"It was interesting piecing together fragments of stories I'd heard from Miss Sadie.  Noting what had changed and what had stayed the same.  But for some reason, these stories all made me sad and more than a little rankled.  It rankled me that everyone in this town had a story to tell.  Everyone owned a piece of this town's history.  Yet no one mentioned my daddy.  Even when Gideon had been here, he hadn't really been here.  I couldn't find much of a sign of his ever even having set foot in Manifest, let alone having left an impression."  (pp. 245-246)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Also, since we're quite a way into 2011, I figured it was time to start working on some of those challenges I wanted to participate in.  This may be pushing it, but I had wanted to read this book ever since it was announced as the Newbery winner all the way back in...January.  Yes, January.

It counts!

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