Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren

Gayle Rosengren, who currently lives near Madison, WI, has done what most children's librarians only dream about.  She has written a children's historical novel aimed at that those readers that she helped find books for many years.  WHAT THE MOON SAID is set in the 1930s, those years of economic depression when life was so uncertain for millions of Americans.  Ten year old Esther may not understand what is causing the depression, but she is certainly affected by it.  When her father looses his job in Chicago the family makes a move to a ram shackled farm in Wisconsin.  Her frugal mother has accumulated enough "emergency" money that they can make the down payment on the small acreage and the animals left behind by the last unsuccessful owner.

The move from Chicago to rural Wisconsin brings big changes -- no longer do they have electricity so the family's well loved radio is no longer a lifeline to the outside world.  Running water and indoor plumbing are no where to be seen.  Esther is far from her best friend and from her older sisters, the ones she often turns to for advice and comfort.  Violet, the sister just slightly older than Esther sees her sister as a nuisance and that is one thing that doesn't change with the move to Wisconsin, at least not at first.  Also the heavy feeling that Esther always has that her mother doesn't really love her seems to follow the young girl wherever she goes.

What Esther does get from her mother are many, many lessons about luck -- both good and bad. Her mother, an immigrant from Russia, lets superstition rule all family decisions, even forbidding Esther from being friends with a neighbor because the little girl had a predominant mole on her face.  As the book progresses, readers will begin to understand, along with Esther, why her mother is so emotionally restrained and superstitious.  Like many preadolescent books, this one shows readers that love within a family can survive and even grow in difficult times.  At the same time, it shows how childhood misconceptions and fears can be resolved.  I wasn't too fond of the constant references to superstitions in the first part of the book (just not my thing) but by the ending I saw the purpose of those references and I was pleased with the resolution.
Rosengren's writing reminded me of Sharon Creech and others who have successful tackled the stories of lonely children in struggling families.  I look forward to Rosengren's next book, as I think she has the right heart for writing for this age group (9-12)  Check out http://www.gaylerosengren.com/ to learn more about the book and Gayle Rosengren.

I got this book through our library system.

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