A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book about a young girl's struggle to survive on her own on the Kansas prairie is at times full of despair, but May is so determined to overcome her hardships, both mental and physical, that there is always hope hiding closely under her misery. Readers will also experience with May the effects of her dyslexia (although it is not named, since the term did not then exist) and will empathize with the way it sometimes dampens May's spirit. The free-verse style of May's narration makes for a fast, engaging read.
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What's the story?
In the 1870s on the Kansas prairie, 12-year-old May B. must leave her family when her parents hire her out to a newly married couple to help with domestic duties. Although May's father promises her she will be home by Christmas, she feels abandoned and lost, especially when she meets her new mistress, who is not much older than she and is not particularly kind. Though this situation is difficult, it becomes worse: When the young woman runs away, her husband goes after her. And May is left alone, with winter coming on. With no neighbors nearby, May must survive entirely on her own until her father comes to fetch her.
Is it any good?
The simple, sparse verse echoes May's loneliness and feeling of abandonment in beautiful, clear language. May’s heartbreak over being left by her family and her struggles to read is palpable, but she always returns to the cold, hard fact that she must survive. When she runs out of fuel, she gathers hay and binds it into logs. When she is starving, she figures out how to fish with her bare hands.
But this is not simply a story of physical survival: May never loses sight of her hopes for the future. At night, when her chores are done, she works hard to get through her reading book and wonders if she is foolish for dreaming of someday being a teacher. May's perseverance, not just in surviving but also in following her dreams and struggling to accept herself, makes her a character readers will love to root for.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the author chose to write the novel in verse form. Do you think it made it harder or easier to read?
What do you think it would be like to live in a house made of dirt and grass?
What do you think May and her brother Hiram meant when they looked for the "the place where land touches sky"?
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