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*The Wonder of Charlie Anne* by Kimberly Newton Fusco- young readers fantasy book review
The Wonder of Charlie Anne
by Kimberly Newton Fusco
Grades 4-8 272 pages Knopf August 2010 Hardcover    

Bringing a fresh voice to Depression-era fiction, Kimberly Newton Fusco’s The Wonder of Charlie Anne is set on a rural farm. Charlie Anne’s mother recently died in childbirth, and her father and older brother have gone north to build roads for the government to bring in needed cash.

Mirabel, an adult cousin, has come to care for Charlie Anne, her younger brother, Peter, and younger sisters Ivy and Birdie. Missing her mother terribly and now her father and brother, Charlie Anne resents Mirabel and her insistence on teaching her manners and household chores. She finds comfort in visits to the river, conversing with the spirit of her mother and in caring for the family cow and her calf.

When their neighbor “old Mr. Jolly” comes home with a new wife, Rosalyn, and their “adopted” African American daughter, Phoebe, Charlie Anne immediately bonds with the girl, forming a friendship which is looked down upon not only by Mirabel but most of the rest of the community. Charlie Anne experiences firsthand the cruel discrimination related to her good friend and family.

The girls’ friendship is not without conflict, as Charlie Anne struggles with her reading and becomes jealous of Phoebe’s academic abilities. Additionally, she must work through yet another family adjustment as Mirabel sends her brother to live in Boston with an aunt.

The plot comes to a climax when Phoebe’s foot is caught in a neighbor’s hunting trap. Charlie Anne not only saves her life but also finally learns to read under the individual tutelage of Rosalyn during Phoebe’s recovery. Ultimately, this crisis ignites a change within their rural community as Mirabel finally recognizes the importance of Phoebe in Charlie Anne’s life and begins to help less fortunate neighbors at the same time.

Charlie Anne’s unique, strong voice reveals her thoughts and hopes most deeply through her mother’s voice – calling her to mature and make the right, albeit difficult decisions in her life. Other than Charlie Anne, Mirabel’s character undergoes most dramatic changes.

From the beginning, she is portrayed as a stereotypical strict “stepmother” figure. However, if reader stops to consider the situation, throughout the story, Mirabel is a selfless person struggling to do the very best for a family which most definitely needs her leadership to survive in hard times.

Recurring themes throughout the book will resonate with readers of today, including the importance of family, thankfulness and the ingenuity it takes to get by when times are difficult. The image of the cows, a mother and daughter, recurs throughout underlying the importance of the mother/daughter relationship missing from both Phoebe and Charlie Ann’s lives. Each girl recognizes something is missing - not forgetting the hurt but coping despite the loss.

Ultimately, Charlie Anne’s story is one of hope and change with subjects which are important today as they were during the Depression. The plot is both reflective and active as each character reacts to change and crisis in a hopeful story centering on the values of family and friendship.
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  Kristine Wildner/2010 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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