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The Trouble with May Amelia
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 is the sequel the Newbery
Honor Book Our Only May Amelia, but can be read on its own. The cover suggests that May Amelia is an older girl, but it really takes place just six months after the first novel, when May Amelia is still 12, and the content is appropriate for tweens. There is some violence here: A distraught farmer shoots himself, a boy loses his hand in a logging
accident, a grisly murder brings cousins to stay on the farm, for example. And May Amelia is called names and made to feel worthless by her father and brothers. Readers will learn something about the weight of words. Also, this book is based on the author's family history and has been
researched to be historically correct. It gives good insight into what
life was like for Finnish immigrants who homesteaded in upper Washington
State in the late 1800s.
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What's the story?
Twelve-year-old May Amelia is a tough-minded, big-hearted girl living in a harsh community of Finnish immigrants who have homesteaded in upper Washington during the late 1800s. They all must be tough, but May Amelia maybe most of all: She is the only girl in the area, and her father and older brothers constantly tell her she is worthless. She gets herself into quite a bit of trouble trying to prove them wrong. When a land developer comes to town, and May Amelia's Finnish-speaking father calls on her to translate, she jumps at the chance to gain his respect. After things go sour, she gets the blame for her family's downfall and even blames herself. But May Amelia is a girl with imagination and sisu (the Finnish word for guts) -- and she is going to need them both to save the day.
Is it any good?
This sequel has a compelling premise, and May Amelia remains a lovable, tragic, and funny character. Holm again captures the complicated flavor of life along the Nasel River among the Finnish immigrants, especially among this prideful farming family. Their world is harsh and cold, yet somehow fun and loving. There, May Amelia finds one adventure -- or misadventure -- after the next. Holm relates her tragedies -- big and small -- with both humor and poetry.
Though this second May Amelia book can stand alone, it's better when
read after the first, which gives it an even fuller historical
perspective (and a map of the area, not included in this installment). The sequel seems lighter and less rich than the first -- a Newbery Honor book -- focusing this time primarily on the family's squabbles. Even so, it's an engaging story with wisdom to impart. Fans of Our Only May Amelia will certainly find plenty to enjoy in this sequel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cover of this book. How does the girl on the cover compare with how you imagined 12-year-old May Amelia? How does it compare with the cover of the first book? Why do you think the publisher decided on a different approach for this installment?
What did you think of the violence and cruelty in May Amelia's world? Did it bother you -- or was it necessary to create a realistic depiction of a frontier homesteader's life?
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