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May B. Hardcover – January 10, 2012
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Furious that Ma and Pa have sent her out to work for the money they need, May Betts, 11, finds herself in a small, sod homestead on the western Kansas prairie in the late 1870s, 15 miles away from home, caring for a new, unsettled young bride, who is just a few years older than May. When the bride takes off, her husband leaves to find her, and May is all alone—frightened, furious, abandoned. Can she survive the five months until her parents come to collect her at Christmas? Told in very short lines, the spare free verse in spacious type is a fast read, poetic and immediate. The daily physical details are the heart of the survival story of finding food and keeping warm and safe as the snow comes, all against the dramatic backdrop of the prairie. The vast landscape is home to May, but to the new bride, the quiet is “thunderous as a storm, the way / it hounds you / inside / outside / nighttime / day.” Of course, Little House fans will grab this. Grades 3-7. --Hazel Rochman
Heroes come in all sizes; my newest hero is a pint-sized girl named May B. Caroline Starr Rose tells May's story in simple, moving verse that captures the joy of family, the gloomy isolation of a dirt soddy, and the determination of one scared but indomitable young person. May B. is a girl you'll be proud to know.
- Karen Cushman, Newbery winner
- American Library Association Notable Book 2013
- American Booksellers Association 2012 Spring New Voices title
- Amazon's Best Books of the Month for Kids: January 2012 selection
- Junior Library Guild selection
- Kids' Indie Next List: Spring 2012
- Publisher's Weekly Spring 2012 Flying Start
- 2012 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award Winner, juvenile division
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May's parents tell her she is going to have to travel 15 miles to live with another homesteader and his new wife. They need help around the homestead, and he is willing to pay May's parents to have her stay with them and help for the next few months. May knows it isn't permanent, but she also isn't ready to move away from her parents for so long with no way to be in contact with them. 15 miles across rough land in a horse and buggy is nothing to take lightly. To make matters worse, May is going to have to stop going to school when she moves in with them. School is hard enough for May, but with such a long time away from it, she knows she is never going to move out of the little kid side of the schoolhouse. It is embarrassing enough to have to sit with the little kids at her age because she can't read. After months away, she knows it will be worse and she will suffer the wrath of her teacher even more than she does now.
At the homestead, it is clear the homesteader's wife doesn't want to be there. She doesn't intend to do any chores herself, but it seems like May's very presence bothers her. When she picks up and leaves, her new husband chases after her, leaving May behind in the homestead. May assumes they will be back, but days and days pass and no one returns. Left to tend to the home herself with no new food, she has enough to survive a while, but not until her father comes for her at Christmas. Just a child, May B. does the bravest thing she could do. She survives.
May B. is my newest love. This book is told in short free verse that is very readable and easy to understand. It also makes the book incredible accessible for students who struggle with reading. Do they look at a page full of text the same way May describes? You bet they do! So having these short, powerful snippets are an amazing way to tell the story of a dyslexic girl while simultaneously not alienating the dyslexic young adults who the story would mean the most to. Pure brilliance. And while May isn't actually stated as being dyslexic, her struggles with reading are so spot on, you can't deny her obvious dyslexia. I loved this. Our students are lucky enough to live in a modern world where dyslexia is known and can receive remediation. What if they lived 150 years ago and you were just considered unintelligent if you couldn't read? This book really gives them a moment of perspective, and I really believe that is invaluable.
In addition, May is a young dyslexic girl who is SO brave she is able to take care of herself and survive through enormous winter storms all by herself. We so often now see kids who passively let everyone do things for them- teachers, parents, etc., but they never learn to handle difficult situations themselves. In fact, the Washington Post did an interesting article on these "Snow Plow" parents. So to watch May survive and figure things out herself was truly inspiring. I love this little story, and I think it would be great for any kid to read. It is simple enough for super low-skilled students, but it is also appropriate for older students as a supplement to history or a quick connection to the times. I think parents and teachers will enjoy this quick little story too. It was just so wonderful in ever possible way!
I have a 6th grader who is a picky reader and an 8th grader studying the westward expansion of America in the mid-1800s -- I'm passing MAY B on to both of them, knowing that there's much they can take away much from this masterful and beautifully written tale.
May B. is a harrowing survival story told in blank verse as spare as the Kansas prairie. It will be snapped up by anyone who loved Laura Ingalls Wilder's Long Winter or Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust.