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*May B.* by Caroline Starr Rose - middle grades book review
May B.
by Caroline Starr Rose
Ages 11-15 240 pages Schwartz and Wade January 2012 Hardcover    

An absorbing work of historical fiction written in verse, May B. tells the story of young May Betts, living on the Kansas prairie in the 1800s.

At the beginning of the story, May is sent 15 miles away by her parents to live with a farmer named Mr. Oblinger and his new wife from out East. The young wife is clearly unhappy living on the prairie in their tiny sod home. One day, she simply leaves on her own; her husband follows several hours later. May is left behind. She expects them back; but after four days, she realizes that she is all alone.

The heart of the story takes place while May must cope with her abandonment and survive until her father picks her up at Christmas. May recalls her life with her family, especially her fun-loving younger brother, Hiram. Her most vivid and painful memories are from school.

Although she knows that she understands all she is taught, May struggles with reading. When she was younger, her teacher was patient, encouraging. In contrast, the newer teacher was inpatient and resorted to humiliation, especially when it came to May and her difficulties with reading. May’s confidence was shattered by the new teacher. Nevertheless, May wants to be a teacher, maybe.

As the food runs low and the weather gets colder, May hears wolves. She experiences remarkable changes in character when she is all alone,moving from apathy to fear, to self-sufficiency and courage. After a harsh blizzard, May realizes that she has no choice but to find help on her own. She can no longer wait for help to come to her.

The voice of May runs strong throughout each verse. We see what is important to May through her eyes alone. Within the sparse language there is a concentration on the most important elements of May’s life. May’s dyslexia may hinder her reading, but ultimately she does not allow her condition to stop her from pushing forward.

May B. is an excellent choice for a reluctant girl reader, especially one who struggles herself with reading but is strong in skills of inference and reflection. The short chapters give the reader pause to stop and think, review the previous chapter in her head, and move forward at a relatively quick pace. It is an especially good choice for middle-grade readers who do not have much stamina for longer texts.

Milo’s efforts at making his way towards Dictionoplis and adventures in the city are as quirky and humorous today as ever. While the annotated version might not add a great deal that kids might be interested in now, they will likely want to re-read it when they’re older, and will be glad to have this edition to learn more about the book they loved reading so much as a child. This was the case with me, at any rate.

For parents wanting to learn more about the children’s classic they loved as children or for a child searching for a timeless beloved classic to read and cherish, I heartily recommend May B.. Leonard Marcus documents the origins of this famous work of literature through his research, preserving for all time the history behind The Phantom Tollbooth.
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  Kristine Wildner/2012 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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