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Sneak Peek at a Middle Grade Novel You’ll Love

November 2, 2011

Today we are joined by Joanne Fritz, children’s book guru at Chester County Books and Music in West Chester Pennsylvania.  Joanne is a voracious reader, writer and blogger (you can follow her blog at  Joanne recently received an advance copy of May B. by Caroline Starr Rose and HAD to share her thoughts on this charming title.

So many arcs, so little time!  The teetering stacks of advance reading copies are threatening to take over my house. I want to read them all, but I simply can’t. So how does a bookseller decide what to read next?  How do you pick and choose this one over that one?  In some cases, the cover attracts me.  In others, a well-known author or a great premise can draw me in.

In this case it was easy.  I’ve been following Caroline Starr Rose’s blog (Caroline by line) for over a year now, and I’m always impressed by her honest, thought-provoking, and informative posts. Her personality shines through on her blog and I’ve grown to admire and love her. So naturally I wanted to read her book as soon as I received it. The cover’s downright breathtaking, too!  I came home from work one day, had dinner with my family, opened the package from Random House, and after I’d squealed a bit, sat down and read Caroline’s debut novel, MAY B., from cover to cover.

Confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of novels in verse.  But by the second or third page, I was so caught up in May’s story, I forgot I was reading verse. And while I still appreciated the lilting and luminous use of poetic language, I simply devoured this lovely, affecting story about one brave, amazing prairie girl struggling to survive on her own in a sod house in late nineteenth-century Kansas. 

Through flashbacks, we learn that twelve-year-old Mavis Betterly, better known as May, has always had trouble reading.  When a new teacher arrives, she doesn’t understand May’s problem (today we would call it dyslexia) and sends her to sit with the young ones instead of her own age group in the one-room schoolhouse. Hurt and embarrassed, May gives up on school.  She can cook and clean, and times are hard, so Ma and Pa hire her out to the newlywed Oblingers, who live in a poorly-made soddy fifteen miles and a world away.  Ma and Pa need the money, and it’s one less mouth to feed. May is homesick and lonely in the leaky house, missing her parents and her brother as she patiently waits on the demanding Mrs. Oblinger.  But May knows it’s only until Christmas. Then Pa will come with the horse and wagon to fetch her home. 

When something unexpected happens, May is suddenly left on her own, trying to eke out her meager supplies to last through a blizzard, and worrying about the wolves that scratch at her door. 

This lonely but tough and determined girl became real to me as I read.  I was right there in that soddy, shivering along with her, nibbling those last biscuits, struggling to read aloud in the dwindling firelight, and trying to decide if I should strike out for home, not knowing exactly where home was.

Come home with MAY B. This book is a must-have for teachers and librarians, and would make a great gift for an 8 to 12 year old.  Girls will probably enjoy it more than boys, but boys should read it too.  My only regret as a bookseller is that the book will be published too late for holiday gift-giving.  My solution?  Buy a gift card and encourage your child to choose this in January.

Joanne R. Fritz, Chester County Book & Music Company

14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2011 8:29 am

    I don’t know the author’s blog, but I do love that cover. The book sounds great!

  2. November 2, 2011 8:33 am

    Joanne, I am so touched by this beautiful review. You understood my girl. Thank you!
    C. xo

  3. November 2, 2011 9:14 am

    You’re welcome, Caroline!

  4. November 2, 2011 11:19 am

    Heck, I am not a young girl, but now I want to read this book too! It sounds amazing and like something that I could really enjoy. I am not a big reader of middle-grade fiction, but for this book, I would surely make the exception! Fantastic review! This one goes on the list!

  5. November 7, 2011 8:12 am

    Great review. I can’t wait to read this and will be interviewing Caroline at Literary Rambles near her debut day.

  6. November 7, 2011 1:35 pm

    It sounds a bit like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and I loved those. Thanks for this review. I look forward to being able to read it.

  7. November 7, 2011 11:59 pm

    Seriously, I hunger for this book. So excited for Caroline.

  8. November 9, 2011 8:31 pm

    I can’t wait to get my mafioso mitts on this!

  9. March 29, 2012 6:58 am

    Excellent review, which I found from following Caroline’s blog. I will link this to an interview I’m about to do. Because I sure couldn’t have said it any better myself!

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