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*The Mighty Miss Malone* by Christopher Paul Curtis - middle grades book review
The Mighty Miss Malone
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Ages 9+ 320 pages Wendy Lamb Books January 2012 Hardcover    

Christopher Paul Curtis has created another engaging historical fiction novel for children. The Mighty Miss Malone centers on 11-year-old Deza Malone, a character featured in his Newbery-winning book, Bud, Not Buddy.

Deza, her parents and her older brother live in Gary, Indiana, during the Great Depression. Her father has been out of work for a long time, and money is very tight. Nevertheless, the family is happy; Deza is an exceptional student and her brother Jimmie, an extraordinary singer. The whole community hangs their hopes for the future on the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling boxing match of 1936. When Deza’s father is injured in a terrible accident on a fishing boat on Lake Michigan, he comes home a changed man—still dedicated to his family but sad and discouraged.

Deza’s father leaves Gary, in search of work in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The family struggles along without him, but eventually, they can no longer pay their rent and travel to Flint. In a heartbreaking scene, Deza and her brother read a sealed letter of recommendation from their mother’s former employer. The letter is condescending and unkind, so the children write a different letter.

After a difficult journey, the family becomes settled to some extent in a transient community near the railroad. Jimmie eventually leaves with a man who claims he can make money by singing, and Deza and her mother are left alone.

A hopeful story set in a financially devastating time period, The Mighty Miss Malone is filled with both optimism and despair. Although Deza and her brother both possess strong self-confidence, it is clear that prejudice and segregation will hinder their ability to fulfill their dreams.

Deza’s voice is particularly strong and unique—articulate, yet her thoughts and feelings reflect a child’s perspective. The hardships of Deza’s family, especially the lack of medical and dental care, affect their lives, yet they persevere, dream for the future and never give up hope. The message of the importance of strong female leadership and family commitments will remain with the readers, especially after the bittersweet end when the Malone family’s hopes are realized but pain and sadness linger.

Christopher Paul Curtis’s afterward focusing on the importance of the Louis/Schmeling fight and the plight of African Americans during the Great Depression reveals a part of history which is rarely covered in history textbooks. At its best, historical fiction teaches the reader something not only new but also fascinating about the past. The author successfully ties the past to the present with a message that there is still so much work to be done for the social and economic equality of the races.
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