Monday, February 7, 2011

A Town with a Past

Moon Over Manifestby Clare Vanderpool, Delacorte Press, 2010, 368 pages, ISBN: 0385738838

At the height of the Depression in 1936 Abilene Tucker rides into Manifest, Kansas on a rail.  Her father Gideon has decided that at age twelve, Abilene must stop living the life nomadic with him, and, though he continues working for the railroad back in Iowa, he sends her to live with his old friend, Pastor Shady Howard.  At Shady's house, she finds a box of letters and mementoes hidden under a floor board in her room.  The letters, dated between 1917 and 1918, are from Ned, a young soldier serving in France, to a 14-year-old boy named Jinx.

Very quickly Abilene makes the acquaintance of many of the town's residents including "Reporter About Town" Hattie Mae, fortune teller Miss Sadie, nun-cum-schoolteacher Sister Redempta, and schoolgirls Lettie and Ruthanne.  Sister Redempta gives Abilene a summer assignment:  to write a story, but she's too busy with her new school chums spying on the town and listening to Miss Sadie's stories of the town's past: the orphan train, deplorable conditions for the immigrants working the local mine, the KKK, bootlegging, a young con artist on the run from the law, and the influenza epidemic that killed more people than the Great War.

There's plenty of history and plenty of mystery in this 2011 Newbery Medal Recipient.  Who is the Rattler?  Who is Abilene's father Gideon?  Why is he never mentioned in any of Sadie's stories?  How does Miss Sadie fit into Manifest's past?  Mementoes, letters, newspaper columns, and Miss Sadie's stories weave the events of 1918 with the present (1936), and Abilene learns how her father's story--and hers--fit in with the rest of the town, past and present.


  1. I was so surprised this won the Newbury. I liked the story, but I didn't think it was particularly special; in fact, it's probably one I would have forgotten if it hadn't won. Go figure. I never guess the winners so my streak continues. Did you find it award worthy? -T

  2. I read last year's winner and felt it, too, was undeserving of the Newbery. I'm not sure I find Moon Over Manifest award worthy either, but I did enjoy the story. I think a lot of middle school kids would like it, but I don't know if my middle school kid would. I can't recommend it with the same enthusiasm I did Harris and Me, but rare is the book that merits that high a recommendation. Better question: which book do you think should have won the Newbery Medal?

  3. My top three this year were:
    Out of My Mind by Draper
    One Crazy Summer by Williams-Garcia
    Countdown by Wiles
    While I felt that all three had some flaws, each was a memorable story and are ones I will be recommending in years to come.

  4. I loved One Crazy Summer; I'll have to check out the other two.