The Trouble with May Amelia

Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Reading Range: 4.0 ( AR Finder)
Interest Range: 3-5 (AR Finder)
Plot:  This story is set in 1900 in Washington state. It tells the story of May Amelia and her family.  She is the only girl in a family of boys. The family is poor and has to work very hard to make a living off their farm located on the Nasal River.  May Amelia is always working to prove she has sisu, which in Finnish means “guts.”  Her family is Swedish immigrants  However, she gets into trouble all the time by burning the family dinner when her mother is birthing babies for the neighbors.  Things do not go well for the family after the father invests in a bad scheme offered by a snake oil type salesman. May Amelia translates for her father because he does speak English well.  Her father decides to invest by mortgaging the farm and so does the rest of the small community. All the farmers go belly up and lose their farms when the truth is found out.  May Amelia’s father blames her for their troubles and stops talking to her and acknowledging her existence. Everything goes wrong for the family. Her favorite brother loses his hand in an accident at the lumber mill and her mother goes to work at a fish cannery. The family tries their best to get back on their feet.
Review: The thing that strike me about the book is May Amelia is the only girl her age in the story. There are no other girls she can be friends with. The only other girl in the story is her cousin, Helmi, who is three. Helmi is treated differently than May Amelia. The boys tease her and her father is cruel to her telling her he thinks girls are pretty much worthless. The boys are charmed by Helmi and treat like a girl. Even her father is nice to Helmi. When they lose their money her father pretty much blames her for everything that happened. I did not like her father because of how mean he was to her. He saw girls as not worth much especially since they are living in the frontier. He needs boys to work the land. It is interesting to read how she is expected to act like a boy and a girl. They expected her to work the land and act like a lady. Even through I did not like that part of the book, I did enjoy reading about May Amelia. She is a likable character as she tries her best. I would recommend this book to people who like historical fiction.
Additional Info:
I did not know this when I read the book but it is the sequel to another book called “Our Only May Amelia.” Honestly, it did feel like I was reading a sequel and that it was it own book.
Main Characters:
May Amelia-May Amelia is the only girl in her family. She tries her best.
Mamma-She is May Amelia’s mother. She helps women have their babies.
Pappa-He is May Amelia’s father. He does not like her because she is a girl.
Wilbert-He is her favorite brother.

Theme:  Family – blessing or curse, Greed as downfall, Oppression of women

Bibliographic Info:

Holm, Jennifer L. (2011). The trouble with May Amelia. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

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Bud, Not Buddy

Author: Christopher Paul Curtis
Reading Range: 5.0 (AR Finder)
Interest Range: 4-8 (AR Finder)
Plot: Bud Caldwell is an orphan during the Great Depression. He is also an African-American living in Michigan.  His mother died when he was five and he never knew his father. The only things he had left from his life with his mother is a suitcase that contains a bag of rocks, a photograph of his mother as a child and fliers that show Herman E. Calloway and his jazz band. Bud thinks that Herman E. Calloway is his father. He is sent to a foster home where the son picks on him. He fights back and is punished by the mother for hurting the son. They tell him they are going to send him back to the home. He decides he does not want to return there. He escapes from the shed that the family puts him in. He gets his suitcase and goes on his way. He tries to find a librarian that was nice to him to get information about what to do. She is married and gone. He ends up in a shantytown where he is treated nicely by the people there. He helps out and does what he can. He wants to hop a train but he is not able to get on the train. He decides after that he is going to find his father. He does find Calloway but he does not like Bud or believe he is his son. Bud has to try to win him over.
Review: Reading the book, even through it is not explicitly stated, there is a hint that African-Americans were treated like second class citizen. It must have been even harder for children like Bud who did not have any family to protect them. It sounded like there were too many children already living at the home where Bud used to live. It seemed like luck of the draw if they were going to get a foster family that would treat them well or not. The family that Bud lived with already looked down on him because he was an orphan. They expected him to be grateful they even took him into their home. They did not stop to consider that Bud lost everything in his life when his mother died. They did not seem to care about him at all and look at him as a bother. When Bud is on his own, there are examples of how hard it was for a child trying to survive on his own. He had to relay on the kindness of adults yet he had to be weary of them. Would they try to hurt him or help him? Bud kept fighting and trying to make a good life for himself even with everything being against him. I would recommend this book to people who like reading historical fiction. I thought it captured that time period well.
Additional Info:
This book won a Newbury Medal in 2000. The author also won a Coretta Scott King Award in 2000.
Main Characters:
Buddy Caldwell-Bud prefers to be called Bud and not Buddy. He is ten years old and an orphan. He is trying to survive and find his father.

Mr. Herman E. Calloway-Calloway is the band leader. Bud believes he is his father. Calloway does not trust Bud and thinks he is trying to pull a scam. He is also sad because he lost his daughter.

Angela Janet Caldwell-Angela is Bud’s mother. She dies before the story even begins but Bud thinks of her often. The lessons she taught him help him to survive.

Deza Malone-Deza is the girl who teaches Bud how to survive in the shantytown. She teaches him the rules. She also gives him his first kiss.

Lefty Lewis-Lefty is the a man who picks Bud up when he is trying to find his father. He takes him to his daughter’s home to fed him and give him new clothes. He takes him to his father.

Miss Grace Thomas-Grace is the “vocal stylist” in Calloway’s band. She takes care of Bud and tries to get Calloway to accept him.

Theme: Desire to escape, Fate and free will, Inner versus outer strength, Injustice

Bibliographic Info:

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, Not Buddy. New York, NY: Delacorte Press

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Kira-Kira

Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Reading Range: 4.8
Interest Range: MG
Plot:  This story is set during the 1950s and it involves the Takeshima family who are Japanese. The story is told through the eyes of the middle child, Katie. Katie is telling the story of her family but also of her sister, Lynn. The girls are very close and shared everything. Lynn taught Katie to call everything kira-kira, which means glittering in Japanese.  Lynn is the beautiful, smart and popular daughter while Katie is the middle child. They have a Japanese grocery store in Iowa that goes broke because there are not enough Asian people to frequent the store. They moves to Chesterfield, Georgia so the mother and father can work in the chicken hatcheries where Uncle Katsuhisa has gotten them jobs. The parents work very hard to provide a minimal existence for their children. After several years of living in Georgia, Lynn becomes ill. At first,Katie’s parents keep telling her it is because her sister is anemic. Katie has to take over more and more responsibilities as her sister gets sicker. She must care for her little brother, Sam, as her parents work more and more to help take care of Lynn.Katie’s parents finally tell her Lynn is dying. The family has to get ready to say goodbye to Lynn.
Review: This story shows the love that two sisters can have for each other. Katie loves her sister. Her sister is the center of their family. She is the one they think is going to go far. She tries to give them hope even when they are struggling. That is what she meant by kira-kira. There are so many wonderful things in this world. She tries to tell Katie how wonderful she is. The Takeshima family struggles with racism and poverty. The parents work at a chicken hatchery where they are treated like slaves. The owner is cruel to his workers. He works them as hard as he can. It becomes harder for the family when Lynn becomes sick. They have to work even more to pay for her medicine. Lynn knew she was dying in the story. She tries to leave something beyond for her family to have hope after she dies. One of the themes of this story is to still have hope even when things are hard and bleak. This is a tough story to read because there are no easy answers. I would recommend this book to kids who like reading sad yet hopeful stories.
Additional Info:
 This book won the Newbury Medal for literature in 2005.
Main Characters:
Katie Takeshima-Katie is the middle daughter. She is the one who tells the story.
Lynn Takeshima-Lynn is the oldest daughter. She is smart and talented. She develops cancer.
Sam Takeshima-Sam is the youngest son.
Kiyoko Takeshima-Kiyoko is Katie, Sam, and Lynn’s mother. She is delicate and nervous but practical.
Masao Takeshima-Masao is the father of Katie, Lynn and Sam. He is a quiet and thoughtful man.
Uncle Katsuhisa-Katsuhisa is Masao’s brother. He helps the family after they lose their grocery store.

Theme:  Coming of age, Death, Everlasting love, Injustice, Love and sacrifice

Bibliographic Info:

Kadohata, Cynthia. (2004). Kira Kira. New York, NY: Aladdin Paperbacks.

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