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 Newbery Medal winner tells a nostalgic, robust story that takes place during the Great Depression (1936) with a secondary story that flashes back to the era of World War I (1917-1918). There's some violence: One man is stabbed and killed, one loses his foot in an animal trap, a soldier is hit by shrapnel, many people die of influenza, and the KKK burns a cross in front of a German meeting hall. But Abilene is a smart, courageous protagonist who not only finds her home in this moving story, but also helps her new community work through its problems. This book educates readers about WWI and the Great Depression, and also imparts a message about the importance of supporting one another, sharing, and listening to each person's story.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After riding the rails and traveling around with her father for most of her life, 12-year-old Abilene is sent back to the town of Manifest, Kansas, to spend the summer living with an old friend of her dad's. At first, she is confused, defensive, and a bit rough-and-tumble abrasive. Her life has been anything but normal up to this point, and she really has no clue about where she should call home. Is it a real place like Manifest? Or is "it not down in any map; true places never are" (a quote from Moby Dick that pops up several times throughout the book). But things quickly begin working out for her. She forms a spy club with some new friends she meets, and they spend the summer unraveling the mysteries of the town, flushed out by stories people tell them, hidden letters -- and a relationship Abilene forms with a Hungarian woman who professes to be from a family of diviners. In the process, Abilene learns about her own father's history, and finds a real home.
Is it any good?
This intriguing story weaves a number of different threads together to create a world that is both believable and mysterious. The characters are an assortment of unique individuals -- from a Hungarian woman with a bit of magic to the spirited protagonist -- each with his or her own story to tell, and life with them in Manifest is both nostalgic and fascinating at the same time.
Readers will have no trouble connecting with Abilene, since most tweens and teens are trying to find out where they fit in this world just like she is. The flashbacks let her story unfold in a creative way, making this a good resource for teaching storytelling or fiction writing. Historical details about World War I and the Great Depression, as well as the author's list of resources, offer further opportunities for educational exploration.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about historical fiction. How do you find the line between fact and fiction? Do you find it easier to digest history when it's told this way? Does it ever get confusing?
Vanderpool won the 2011 Newbery Award, which the American Library Association gives to the author of the best children's literature book of the year. Do you think this book deserves this prestigious prize? Seeing the list of past winners of Newbery Awards and Honors, are there others you would like to read?
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