May B.

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
May B. Book Poster Image
Riveting and moving account of girl's struggle for survival.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

When 12-year-old May B. is left alone in a "soddy" -- a house made of prairie grass and dirt -- readers will learn about the hardships of life on the Kansas prairies in the late 19th century. This tale of survival is told in spare verse which, though evocative and easy to follow, does require readers to fill in some details with their imagination. 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.

Positive Messages

Mavis Elizabeth Betts, or May B. as she is called, is stuck alone in a soddy for most of the winter. Unable to tell exactly what day it is, May has no idea if she can make it till December, when her father is supposed to come and bring her home. On her own, May goes through a gamut of emotions, feeling hope one day and despair the next. But whether she is feeling brave, afraid, lonely, or defiant, she never gives up. She is determined to survive and, even more important, to overcome her learning disability and not let it define her.

Positive Role Models & Representations

May is the sole character for most of the book, but she is up to the challenge. Despite her loneliness and occasional despair, May is practical and plans ahead; she is extremely capable and knows how to cook, mend, and make a home. She is also self-analytical and somewhat hard on herself, frequently asking herself why she is the one placed in this situation and whether or not she will ever be able to pursue her dream of being teacher despite her difficulties at school. Her introspection, her day-to-day struggle to survive, and her occasionally rebellious spirit all combine make her a fully realized character, full of self-doubt but also an inescapable optimism. May is not perfect, but she is real and relatable.

Violence & Scariness

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bykg29 April 18, 2016

Quick read

Beautifully written, however not a page turner.
Kid, 9 years old July 25, 2013


For more advanced readers. The content is fine, but the structure and words are definitley more complex than is sutible for beggining readers.

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"?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love Adventure and strong female characters

Themes & Topics

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