Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Moon over Manifest

Vanderpool, Clare. 2010. Moon over Manifest. New York: Delacorte.

Moon over Manifest is this year's winner of the John Newbery Medal, "awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children."

I admit that, like many other librarians, I hadn't read it before it was announced the 2010 winner - but no matter, other librarians wiser than I had picked this stellar gem out of last year's mine full of gems.

...and I learned something about cover art.  For better or worse, I do pick books by their covers (I'm fond of quoting Mary Rose Wood from the Mysterious Howling, "all books are judged by their covers until they are read")  The minute I saw this cover, I loved it, but I didn't read it.  Why?  Because I thought that this winsome little Midwest gal in overalls might not appeal to my little East coast customers.  I thought I might be completely enamored by it, as I was with Ruth White's 2008 book, Little Audrey, and then disappointed when it didn't garner the attention that I'd hoped for.  Well, it looks like Abilene Tucker and her creator, Clare Vanderpool will get plenty of attention - and believe me, they deserve it.  Next time I'll follow my instincts.

Photographer, Richard Tuschman gets credit for the inviting cover art. Check out his original photo of "Abilene" on his blog, Richard Tuschman Images.

Manifest is not only the fictional location of the story, manifest (both the verb and the noun) are an integral part of the story.  Manifest,Kansas, the dry (Dust Bowl and Prohibition style dry) Midwest town is revealed, or made manifest, through the stories of its people, most of whose names can be found on the manifests of ships that passed through Ellis Island. 
The story begins in 1936, with Abilene Tucker arriving by train.  Her dad, a drifter, has uncharacteristcally sent her away for the summer - to Manifest, a town she knows only from stories her dad has told her as they've ridden the rails throughout the country.  She hops off the train about a half mile before the Manifest stop, reasoning that
it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you. 
 Abilene has been to enough towns in her short life to know that there are certain "universals" - the rich kid in town that looks down on everyone, the poor kid, and so on.  But as she gets to know the people of Manifest and uncovers bits of their lives through old newspaper articles and a box of hidden mementos, she comes to a realization,
Maybe the world wasn't made of universals that could be summed up in neat little packages.  Maybe there were just people.  People who were tired and hurt and lonley and kind in their own way and their own time.

Abilene tries to figure out why her father has sent her Manifest.  When did he live here?  Why did he leave? Is he coming back? The answers come slowly, with the help of the Hungarian Woman, a diviner, a storyteller who breathes life into the Manifest of 1918, during the Great War, a Manifest run by a wealthy mine owner, a Manifest where the immigrant mine workers are intimidated and exploited.  Abilene uncovers Manifest's secrets (and her own) from Miss Sadie's Divining Parlor, from faded copies of "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary," and from letters found in the memento box - letters from a boy named Ned fighting overseas, to his hometown friend, Jinx.

Moon Over Manifest begins with a cast of characters, both from 1918 and 1936, and switches from Abilene's first-person account of the events of 1936, to the diviner's stories of 1918 Manifest happenings.  Wartime correspondence from Ned to Jinx, and Hattie Mae's newsy column (along with the occasional advertisement for healing elixirs and such) fill in the blanks or corraborate the Hungarian Woman's stories. Different fonts and points of view are used to help the reader transition from the past to the present. 

Moon Over Manifest is a many-layered story of parental love, redemption, determination, and community. It's also a mystery, and the story of the ultimate con job.  And it can be funny, heartbreaking and pointed at the same time, as shown in this article from "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary" following a cross burning at the German Fraternal Hall,
July 20, 1918
Since the recent unfortunate happening at the German Fraternal Hall, everyone has been on edge and the mood of the town has been somber.  It is unclear if the motive was the Germans' nationality or their attempt to organize at the mine.  Mr. Keufer says future meetings of the order have been postponed until further notice.
     It is in times like these that this news column cannot provide the needed comfort and solace.  But as I was instructed in my journalism correspondence course through Harper's Magazine, a good reporter must continue to do her job, even in the most trying of times.  These are certainly trying times.
     It has been one year since the first "Yanks" went overseas, and the country hoped they would be home by Christmas past.  However, our boys rally on.  The American Defense Society continues to push for abolishing Hun names in America. For example, changing sauerkraut to liberty cabbage and frankfurters to patriotic pups.  However, many folks in Manifest seem to think that a bit unnecessary.  Especially Mr. Hermann Keufer, who rather likes his name and does not consider himself or his sauerkraut to be a threat to national security.
     Many of the soliders from Camp Funston had a rought boat ride overseas and are still feeling indisposed with flu symptoms.  The army doctor says he's never seen such a fast-spreading outbreak but it should soon be under control.  The troops will be pleased to know that Velma T. has sent off more relief parcels with her newly concocted elixir.
     For Mrs. Larking, who hasnt' been feeling herself of late, the elixir went down fairly easy the day of the Women's Temperance League meeting.  After consuming nearly an entire bottle, she appeared to be feeling better, and although her rendition of "how Dry I am" was a little off tune and a somewhat surprising selection for the gathering, she did seem to have a healthy glow about her.  ...
Hattie Mae Harper
Reporter About Town
A wonderful book!  Highly recommended.
Listen to Clare Vanderpool explain the inspiration for Moon over Manifest, and read a short excerpt.

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