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April 15, 2011

MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool, 2010 *Newbery Medal Winner*

Moon Over ManifestAbilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was. (Amazon)

Review by Kim Thacker, writer, mommy, and Bookshop Talk Host

On January 10th of this year, the American Library Association announced that Clare Vanderpool’s debut novel, MOON OVER MANIFEST, had won the Newbery Medal.  The Newbery is awarded for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”  What an honor for a debut author!  In fact, Ms. Vanderpool was the first debut novelist to receive the medal in thirty years!  It’s an award she deserves, without question.

MOON OVER MANIFEST is unique in that it combines two stories: the 1936 (present) story of Abilene Tucker (the novel’s main character), and the 1918 story of Jinx—a young con-artist.  Jinx’s story comes out both through Miss Sadie, a diviner who employs Abilene, and through letters Abilene finds, which are from Jinx’s best friend, Ned Gillen.  The two stories are woven together so beautifully and inseparably, that I never found myself wishing I were hearing more about one person’s story instead  of the other person’s, as so often happens in split narratives.

Letters play a prominent role in MOON OVER MANIFEST, as do newspaper articles and ads, some of which are downright hilarious.  The following is part of a newspaper advertisement dated 18 years before the story actually takes place (during Jinx’s time):

Sour Stomach?  Try Sizer’s Stomach Tablets...You will be amazed as your load is lightened and relief surrounds you like a cloud.  Get your Sizer’s Stomach Tablets today and expel your troubles tonight.

Not only is MOON OVER MANIFEST funny, but it’s superbly written.  Here’s one of my favorite examples of lovely writing:

(In the following scene, Abilene thinks about something her father, Gideon, told her.)  Gideon had worked for a time in a freight yard in Springfield, Illinois, and Miss Leeds, the lady in the office, had taken me under her wing.  She could work a telegraph machine like nobody’s business.  She said that over time, she could tell a woman operator from a man, as each operator developed a style, or a voice, so to speak.  The operator in Decatur was a woman who displayed a precise staccato touch.  Each letter came across the wire sharp and pointed.  “She probably has a pointed nose, too,” Miss Leeds would say.  The operator in Peoria had a harsh, hammering quality.  Miss Leeds imagined him to be a gruff man who would pound his fists on the table when demanding his dinner.  But the operator in Quincy, he had a firm, steady touch.  One that indicated a fair hand and well-mannered demeanor.  Truth be told, I thought she was read fond of him even though she’d never laid eyes on him.

MOON OVER MANIFEST is also full of interesting snippets from history:

(In this scene, Ned Gillen, a teenaged immigrant of unknown ancestry, is talking to his friend, Jinx.  Ned works at the local mine and is preparing for another shift.)  Ned shrugged, opening the lower chamber of his miner’s lamp and dropping in a small handful of little white cubes.  He turned the knob to the chamber above, allowing a few drops of water to hit the cubes, creating a gas that rose to the top.  We learn that this contraption is a carbide gas light, which was commonly used in mines in the early 1900s.

Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time Newbery Honor winner, said MOON OVER MANIFEST is “The best book [she has] read in ages.”  I’ll second that!  Pick up MOON OVER MANIFEST if you enjoy historical fiction.  I found Ms. Vanderpool’s style to be similar to Richard Peck’s.  Mr. Peck has also won many awards, including a Newbery medal and honor.

If you’re interested in reading what Ms. Vanderpool told Publishers Weekly it was like to win the Newbery medal, click here.

Market:  Middle Grade
Language:  Mild
Sensuality:  None
Violence:  Mild
Mature Themes:  abandonment; economic depression and resulting hardships; racial prejudice

Book formats:

To learn more about the author, visit: Clare Vanderpool


pie said...

I'm looking forward to reading this! And I like Richard Peck too. A Long Way from Chicago is probably one of the funniest books I've ever read, especially the first chapter.

Anonymous said...

Pie: I absolutely love A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO! Richard Peck's books really do have great "voice." I'm reading Rodman Philbrick's THE MOSTLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF HOMER P. FIGG right now, and it's delightful, too. I love historical fiction!