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The Trouble with May Amelia



Spunky heroine returns for less deep, more violent sequel.

What parents need to know

Educational value

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. Farming was difficult, life was harsh, education spotty, and survival often a day-to-day struggle. 

Positive messages

Besides showing how hard the life of immigrants can be, this book teaches that stubborn pride can be a person's worst enemy. It also shows how harsh words can injure a person, and how kind words can bolster them up again

Positive role models

May Amelia grows up in a harsh world, but it does not break her spirit. Sometimes she acts out of anger and revenge, but mostly she is trying to prove her worth as a girl, and as a person. Her father and brothers are gruff and mean, yet they treasure her in a weird way and miss her when she is gone. Even when at odds, they all work hard, together, to keep the farm afloat and the family intact. One brother, her aunt and uncle, and her school teacher are especially kind and supportive. 


A distraught farmer shoots himself, a boy loses his hand in a logging accident, a grisly murder brings cousins to stay on the farm, one with a healing gash in his neck, a harsh father whips his children and tells his daughter she is worthless, a teacher raps students' knuckles for speaking Finn instead of English, etc. Nothing is too graphically described, but violence is part of May Amelia's world and this story.

Not applicable

May Amelia is berated as being useless, stupid, etc. Constant teasing, especially among the family, varies from soft jabs to harsh words that lead to fist fights and bad feelings.  Also, some characters use an offensive ethnic term for Chinese immigrants, though it's accurate language for the time. 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

When May Amelia's father loses the farm, he takes to heavy drinking, and that causes more family problems. 

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.

Kids say

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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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator:Adam Gustavson
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publication date:April 5, 2011
Number of pages:224

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Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byCub's Mom April 13, 2013

Very sad book

My 9 year old daughter says this book is super sad. It's a good story, so she finished the book, but was so saddened that she didn't understand why it had been recommended to her. Perhaps more appropriate for older readers.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educator and Parent Written byD-Rae August 30, 2011

May Amelia is back in another great book.

Great book. I really liked both Only May Amelia and the Trouble With May Amelia. This was a good second book. It might be difficult to handle because of the cruelty toward May Amelia by her dad. I really liked the little cousin because she was a stinker, but May was jealous of her because of the attention that her dad gave her. D-Rae, age 9


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