Sunday, July 10, 2011
Among the books that rapidly made its way to the top of my pile was Marilyn Nelson's Carver: A Life in Poems. Here was George Washington Carver's life told with lyric majesty. Here was poverty and agriculture, botany and music, and I loved every word. Nelson's book would go on to be among the National Book Award finalists that year. It remains a book I return to repeatedly, cite often, keep tucked into a special corner of my shelves.
It seems fitting, then, that I have spent much of this warm, quiet day with Caroline Starr Rose's magnificent middle grade novel-in-verse in hand. It's called May B. and it takes us to the Kansas prairie, where young Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, a struggling reader in school, has been sent fifteen miles from her home to help a new homesteader out. Tragedy strikes, and May B. is soon alone—fending off winter and wolves and the flagellation of self doubt until:
It is hard to tell what is sun,That is May B., thinking out loud. That is the quality of the prose that streams through this book—timeless, transcendent, and graced with lyric spark, moving, always, the consequential story along:
what is candle,
what is pure hope.
She rocks again.And:
"The quiet out here's the worst part,
thunderous as a storm the way
it hounds you
He had that look that reminds meCaroline Starr Rose is both a teacher and a writer (and a fine blogger). She wondered, she writes, how children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, made their way, years ago, and May B. arose in part from that question, as well as from Caroline's own love for social history. I listen for rhythms in the books I read, and I found them aplenty here. I look for heart, and found that, too—abundant and dear. Special books fit themselves into special places, and May B. has a new home here on my shelves—right beside Ms. Nelson's Carver and Jeannine Atkins' Borrowed Names, where versed, artful, backward-glancing works for younger readers go.
someday he'll be a man.
A non sequitur, perhaps: When I finished reading May B. an hour or two ago, I realized something. I have at long last collected enough fine young adult literature of different genres and slants to teach that YA course that I have so often been asked to consider. Ideas form.
May B. is due out from Schwartz & Wade Books, January 2012.