Saturday, March 30, 2013

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose

This short novel in verse tells the unfortunate adventure of little Mavis Betterly after she is abandoned on the Kansas prairie. After their wheat crop fails and the Betterly's are financially strapped, May is taken by her father to the Oblinger homestead 15 miles west to stay until Christmas. For helping Mrs. Oblinger, who is a new bride and who hasn't adapted well to prairie life, she will earn some money for her family. May doesn't want to go. She doesn't want to leave her home and give up schooling.

Around my finger
I twist a blade of grass
It's what I've always wanted,
to contribute,
but not this way.
If I leave,
schooling is as good as finished.
Come Christmas I'll be home
but even farther behind.

When she arrives at the Oblinger's soddy, it's quite obvious to May that Mrs. Oblinger hates living on the prairie, despite her kindly husband's efforts. One day Mrs. Oblinger dresses up, saddles her horse on the pretense of going for a long ride on the prairie, only to never return. When May and Mr. Oblinger find her note, he sets off in pursuit of his wife. Not surprisingly, he doesn't return either and May is left alone on the prairie to fend for herself.

At first May revels in her new found freedom. There is no one to tell her to do chores, when to eat or sleep. She enjoys the lovely fall weather but soon May is filled with fear. The appearance of a wolf at the soddy and her loneliness lead her to attempt to walk home but she soon understands the futility of this. May realizes that she is stuck at the soddy until her father comes for her in December. As she struggles to survive on the remaining food stores left in the Oblinger's sod home, May reminisces about her time at school and her struggles to read. The reader comes to understand that May has a reading disability and that she has been labelled as stupid by the new Teacher. But May's response to her difficult situation is anything but stupid and she shows herself to be a resourceful, brave young girl.

Readers will enjoy Caroline Starr Rose's spirited heroine who loves the wide open prairie. Readers will be touched by May's struggle to learn how to read and how this difficulty can be so tied up in self esteem. May knows she isn't stupid but she is soon labelled as such and humiliated in front of the entire class. The author has created an interesting storyline filled with suspense and the poetry is short and tight, perfect for young readers to try a novel in verse. We eventually learn how May came to have her nickname, May B. and what happened that caused May B to be abandoned by the Oblingers.

Book Review:
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
New York: Schwartz & Wade Books     2012
231 pp.

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