Last year I blogged about Ellen Airgood's debut adult contemporary novel set on Lake Superior's coast, South of Superior. In fact, I was so taken with the novel and with Ellen Airgood's own story of running a restaurant in Grand Marais, Michigan, that we made a stop at the diner while on our UP trip that summer. Sure enough, as we sat eating our fish sandwiches on a warm summery eve, Ellen herself returned from a skype session with a Green Bay book club to assume her other job, baker of breads and such. I just love it when I get to meet an author.
A few weeks ago I got to wondering if she had published a second novel and checked the web to find out that Prairie Evers, a children's novel came out earlier in the year. For those of you who haven't read (or tried writing) novels written for the 4th-8th grade reader, let me say, it is a tricky world. Some of the best writers I know focus their careers there, but the readers themselves are often reluctant and fickle. Over the top series books capture their attention and loyalty. (My granddaughter reads her Diary of a Wimpy Kid books over and over). And more and more, these readers are captivated by what the older crowd is reading, which stodgy old me feels is pushing the boundaries, but back to the subject. Talented writers know how to find the unique stories and particularly important, authentic narrator voices to capture the attention of these readers.
Ellen Airgood has done just that as Prairie Evers tells her own story. Having moved with her parents and her grandmother from the North Carolina hills to New York state, Prairie is just beginning to settle into life there, when her grammy decides to return to North Carolina. Prairie can't imagine life without her nearby, especially since her grandmother has always been her home school teacher. As Grammy and Prairie play their last monopoly game that New Year's Eve, Prairie doesn't really understand how many more changes await her in the coming year: raising chickens, attending public school for the first time, making and keeping a best friend, and trying to understand the "not so kind" world of adults.
Successful stories for this age group often depict the progressing development of personal moral compasses, a growing transition from the world of parental (adult) guidance to independent thinking and decision making. I've found that readers best accept those stories when told with a combination of humor and sensitivity. Airgood excells at that. Also, the best authors often draw in some thread of information that will quietly expand the reader's understanding of history and the world. In this story, it is the background of Prairie's Cherokee heritage.
From the cover to the last page, I found this book to be a delight. I have only two disappointments. One, I am no longer a school librarian and I can't book talk this title to all the classes. Second, I am afraid that Ellen Airgood will focus on the middle school/young adults and forget about the adult readers. I certainly hope she has more stories for all of us.