The Mighty Miss Malone

It’s time to celebrate! I’ve finally finished reading this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award! All in all, I’m pretty happy with the list. Even the books I put off reading were great. My last of the nominees, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, was an excellent book that I hope my students and teachers will love. This is another historical fiction novel (which explains why I put it off to the end), but the themes in this book are timeless, and I think many young readers will relate to Deza Malone, a character introduced in Curtis’ Bud, Not Buddy.

As frequent followers of this blog know, I don’t read much historical fiction unless I have to–or unless there are elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in. The Mighty Miss Malone is a book that I had to read…and I’m glad I did. At first, I was reluctant to get started, but it didn’t take long for me to love the main character. A passage I read on page 31 only cemented that.

“I’m different from most people and one of the main reasons is, I think I might have two brains. Whenever I get nervous or mad or scared or very upset, I have thoughts that are so different from my normal thoughts that there isn’t any way they could be coming from just one brain.
My first brain decides it doesn’t want to know about what is happening and stops working. Then my second brain takes over.
And that brain is always looking to start trouble, to hurt someone or break something.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this totally relatable, and I knew from this one glimpse into the mind of young Deza Malone that I would enjoy my time with her.

Twelve-year-old Deza Malone is probably the smartest girl in Gary, Indiana. Everyone–including Deza–knows she’s destined for great things, but the journey from here to greatness is going to be a long, tough road.

The year is 1936, and the Great Depression is in full swing. It’s tough for folks to find work, especially black folks. Deza’s father is no exception. The Malone family is struggling, and things are going to get much worse before they get better. At least they have each other, right?

After tragedy strikes their community in Gary, Deza’s father leaves to find work in Flint, Michigan. He’s promised to send word when things are well, but, when the Malones hear nothing from their beloved father, Deza, her mom, and her big brother Jimmie–who has problems of his own–set off to find Mr. Malone.

Their journey is peppered with disappointment, adjustments to new and often frightening situations, and simply trying to survive in a world that is by no means kind to those who are poor. Through it all, Deza tries to keep her spirits up and her eyes focused on a brighter future. It’s not always easy…especially when her father–and eventually her brother–seem to be slipping farther away. It’s also difficult for Deza to accept that some people (like her new teachers in Flint) can’t see past the color of her skin.

Deza does what she must to be strong for her family. Will that strength see her through the tough times and into a future filled with possibilities? What will Deza learn about herself and the world around her during this journey? Will the Mighty Miss Malone win in the end? Find out when you read The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis!

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This book is yet another of the SCCBA nominees in which the voice of the main character is one of the novel’s main strengths. It really shines through, and, in a book that is filled with its fair share of depressing and desolate situations, Deza brings a bit of humor to make things just a little brighter.

The Mighty Miss Malone is also a book that I hope will generate discussions about the Great Depression, how it impacted children in poverty, and how society still treats the poor. This book may be a work of historical fiction, but I doubt anyone can read this book without making connections to how those in poverty are treated in today’s world. It’s tragic, disturbing, and–I hope–eye-opening.

For more information about this book and others by Newbery Medal winner Christopher Paul Curtis, visit http://www.nobodybutcurtis.com/. Happy reading!

Ten Cents a Dance

Christine Fletcher’s novel, Ten Cents a Dance, explores the world of taxi dancing in Chicago around the time of World War II.  The book follows Ruby Jacinski, a poor sixteen-year-old girl, who is sick and tired of working in the slaughterhouse for next to nothing.  Her mother has rheumatoid arthritis and cannot work, so Ruby has to quit school to earn money for the family.  She eventually comes across what she believes is a solution to her financial woes:  taxi dancing at the Starlight Dance Academy.  Men would pay her ten cents a dance.  The Starlight would get half, and she’d take a nickel for every dance.  Add tips in, and Ruby thinks she’s rolling in dough.  Soon, though, the money begins to run out.  It just never seems to be enough.

After a scary run-in with a customer who loaned her some money, Ruby thinks she’s got a handle on things.  Her mother thinks she’s a telephone operator, and her sister doesn’t seem to know what’s going on.  Ruby’s also got a serious boyfriend, local ne’er-do-well, Paulie Suelze.  He’s helped her out of a few jams, and he always seems to know when she needs a little help.  If only he wouldn’t keep pressuring her to do things she’s really not ready for.

Ruby soon realizes that her world is slowly unraveling.  Her new life has lost some of its luster, she’s lying to nearly everyone, Paulie is not the guy she thought he was, and the world is at war.  Can she straighten things out before her life is destroyed completely?  How is it even possible that she’s sunk so far so fast?  Read Ten Cents a Dance to learn what one girl will do to escape a life she’s not sure she ever wanted.

As someone who is fascinated with the WWII era, I really enjoyed Ten Cents a Dance.  I knew a little about taxi dancing, but this book shed new light on it.  I knew this “occupation” began in the speak-easies of the 1920’s and continued through WWII.  I didn’t know, however, that there are still taxi dancers in some major cities today.  Through this novel, it is easy to see how quickly girls could be drawn in by the money and attention and how easily things could also go horribly wrong.  Readers will root for Ruby to clean her life up and become the person she should be.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beneath My Mother’s Feet

My latest read, Beneath My Mother’s Feet by Amjed Qamar, is not a very happy book.  In fact, I was mad at most of the characters for nearly the entire book.  That being said, it is a good story about a culture that many American readers know little about.  It also touches on dealing with one’s family expectations and duties while forming one’s own identity.

Nazia is a good daughter.  She always does exactly what her mother asks of her.  Her family lives in Karachi, Pakistan, and, while they are not wealthy, they seem to be comfortable and happy.  Nazia enjoys school and is looking forward to her arranged marriage at the end of the school year.  Things change, however, when Nazia’s father is injured at work and can no longer earn money for the family.  Nazia is forced to drop out of school and work with her mother cleaning others’ houses.  Her older brother steals her dowry, and, even when her father has healed, he refuses to work.  When word of these changes gets to her future father-in-law, Nazia’s engagement is called off.  On top of all of this, Nazia and her family are evicted from their small house and are forced to become live-in servants.

Nazia feels that she has lost the life she once had.  She can see no way out of her current situation.  Who will provide for her mother and two younger siblings if she does not do the lion’s share of the work?  What will become of her if she cannot marry, as is expected of a proper girl?  Read Beneath My Mother’s Feet to learn the story of a girl who is doing all she can to make a better life for herself while still being a good daughter.

When I was reading this book, I reflected on my own relationship with my mother.  Honestly, my mom is a saint compared to the mothers portrayed in this book.  (My mom should probably be sainted for putting up with me anyway.)  I know that culture plays a large part in the mothers’ behaviors in this book, but I cannot imagine a mother seeing her children as workers whose only worth is earning money for the family.  My mom has never shown me anything but love, and I now consider her one of my best friends.  I highly recommend Beneath My Mother’s Feet for any readers, particularly females, who want to examine the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

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