The Mighty Miss Malone

Common Sense Media says

Unforgettable 12-year-old girl battles the Great Depression.





What parents need to know

Educational value

Much about the Great Depression, from precarious employment, tent cities, and poorhouses to speakeasies, fancy cars, and shiny skyscrapers (not to mention baseball and boxing) will become vivid and memorable as experienced by Deza. Along with Deza's, the reader's critical thinking skills will get a workout as events progress; things aren't always what they seem, and they aren't always what the speaker believes, with the best intentions, to be true.

Positive messages

"We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful" is the Malones' family motto, and however bad things get, Deza never wavers from her belief in her family and that statement. Her parents and brother strive constantly against great odds to keep the family together and safe.

Positive role models

Deza and her family members' love and loyalty to one another are compelling, each of them (including the irrepressible Jimmie, whose sense of truth and reality tends to be a bit fluid)  admirable in their own way. Their decisions wouldn't always be appropriate under more normal circumstances -- for example, when they're living in what we would now call a homeless encampment, Mrs. Malone and Deza are advised to lie when people ask where they're from -- but they're always driven by love for the family.


An important scene, told in retrospect by the traumatized survivor, involves the wreck of a fishing boat that killed all but one of the men aboard, and there's some mystery as to what exactly happened. There's also a fight scene in which Jimmie is beaten by the neighborhood bully, whom Deza then trounces. The public hysteria leading up to the first boxing match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling plays a role in the early part of the book.


During  perilous times on the road, Deza and her mother are advised to be extra careful, as life in the camps is even more dangerous for women and girls. On a more comic side, it's a recurring  theme that females of all ages, from Deza's friend Clarice to the ladies of Detroit, are gaga over her sweet-voiced brother Jimmie.

Not applicable

Fancy Buicks and Burma-Shave signs are part of the local color. One vignette has to do with bugs infesting the Quaker Oatmeal.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some scenes take place in a speakeasy in Detroit, though none of the central characters imbibe.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that positive messages abound in this tale of family tenacity in the Great Depression, but some of the misfortunes and hardships that befall the the Malone family are quite harrowing (e.g. losing their home, Mr. Malone's physical and mental deterioration) and may be troubling to more sensitive younger readers. The vivid snapshots of everyday life, main character Deza's exuberant, malapropism-laden love of language and learning, and the sudden dissonance of clashing worlds (say, the world of the Malones, and the world of the banker's family for whom Mrs. Malone cleans house) all add enjoyment, irony and interest to the story for thoughtful readers.

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What's the story?

In May 1936, 12-year-old Deza Malone may be poor, but she's living a fairly secure, happy life in Gary, Ind., as the brightest student in her class and the beloved child of doting parents. But the Great Depression hits the family hard, first driving her father away from town in search of work, then Deza, her brother, and her mother after him when he disappears. Trouble and hardship follow, in which not only poverty but also racial prejudice play a role -- as does the kindness of strangers.

Is it any good?


Curtis' previous book, Bud, Not Buddy, in which young Deza makes an appearance, won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award, among other honors, so THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE is in good company. Deza is an unforgettable character whose perspective on historical events is by turns entertaining and provocative. As the story progresses, young readers will have frequent occasion to contemplate what it might have been like, for example, to be in constant pain because half their teeth were rotting away. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what you know about your own family members' experiences during the Great Depression. Were they similar to the Malones'. Have more recent bad times had a similar effect on people you know?

  • Mr. Malone tells his kids that being called "a credit to your race," while possibly mean as a compliment, is actually an insult that shows the speaker as ignorant and foolish. What are some other examples of "praise" that warn you to be extra careful of the speaker?

  • How does the lack of basic medical care affect the Malones? How might their lives be different today?

  • For the first time when she's in Flint, Deza understands why some kids hate school. What's different about this school and the one she used to attend? How do they compare to your school?

Book details

Author:Christopher Paul Curtis
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Wendy Lamb
Publication date:January 10, 2012
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

This review of The Mighty Miss Malone was written by

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Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written byAsheville mom February 18, 2014

Excellent, but heavy subject matter

I read this book with our two daughters 7 and 9. It was a great springboard for enlightening discussions about prejudice and poverty during the Great Depression. There are parts that are very difficult for sensitive readers that parents might want to be aware of: specifically, the father has a violent encounter with another man that involves him being hit in the face with a boat oar, his face being disfigured and teeth knocked out. The family stay in a Hoover Town the danger present to little girls referenced (though it went over our girls heads) on a couple of instances. The part where Dezas father can't bear to breath in near his daughter for the smell of her rotting teeth is gut wrenching to read and brought tears to all of us. I guess one can't paint a pretty picture of such a horrible time, but just be mentally prepared for heavy subject matter. Would I read it again? Yes. Would probably wait until our youngest was a few years older, though.

What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models


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