Who would have guessed the part that serendipity would play in my reading choices?
In anticipation of a major ice storm all schools were closed yesterday and I got a bonus day off! I was looking for new and interesting picture books at my public library when something led me into the Fiction stacks. I had Caroline Starr Rose's May B. on my To Read list, but I had a few reads I wanted to finish first. Regardless, there was a copy available so I picked it up.
As the day progressed, rain turned to ice. The wind picked up and the temperature started to fall. Power lines became heavily encrusted, and the lights began to flicker. Just as I was waiting for Kelly Clarkson to perform on Idol, the power went out completely.
Mr. Fun decided to use the battery power of a fully-charged laptop to catch a few episodes of an FX program that he is currently addicted to. I picked up May B. and by candlelight started to thumb through it. Enough of that! I got ready for bed and took May B. and a battery-operated lantern with me.
Maybe it was the thought that the thermostat wouldn't be working and we wouldn't have any heat. Perhaps it was the imagery of the Kansas plains during a blizzard. More than likely it was because I vividly remember the Wilder family living through The Long Winter in their Little House on the Prairie. But, as the storm raged outside my own window and I was bundled under layers of blankets, I was right there with May; trying to survive this pioneer adventure. What a way to get into a story!
Mavis Betterly (May) is a 12-year old girl living in 1870's Kansas. In order to contribute financially she is sent out to work at the home of a new settler and his wife. Something happens and May is left to fend for herself through her own long winter. Anyone who has read the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series will feel right at home with this story. I was immediately returned to the wonderful evenings that I spent cuddled up with my daughters - reading the tales of Laura, Mary, Ma, and Pa. And we can't forget Almanzo!
May B. is a novel written in free verse. I can't even remember if I have read a novel written in this style, but I loved it. The first-person narrative seemed almost like stream-of-consciousness to me. May just opens her mouth and the thoughts come out. Ms. Starr Rose adds these little three, four, or five word punches that hit the reader with the urgency and full impact of what May and these early homesteaders would have endured. One such example is:
piles of hay bundles,
bits of loose grass,
I reach into the barrel
for the last apple.
Modern readers will appreciate May as a real character. She is independent, strong, and courageous; yet, she doesn't come without her flaws. She disagrees with her parents and to the reader she is vocal about this. She also struggles with a learning disability which causes her much angst. Through May's struggle we see her move toward an eventual resolution and a determination to overcome her problem.
I cannot wait to put this book in the hands of my students. I have some particular ones in mind that I know will love it as much as I did. I'm just not sure I can do anything about ordering an ice storm to enhance the reading experience.
Rose, Caroline Starr. May B. a novel. New York: Schwartz & Wade (Random House), 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure
Audience: Grades 3-8