Monday, February 12, 2007

Wild and Wonderful West Virginia: Around the World With Your Library Card

We're a little closer to home today. I'm going to tell you about some fantastic books set in West Virginia; two of them won the Newbery Award.

First, let's get acquainted with our neighbor (information comes from our World Book database):

Statehood: June 20, 1863 (the 35th state)
State capital: Charleston
State motto: Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers Are Always Free)
Popular name: The Mountain State
Governor: Joe Manchin III

State tourism site: West Virginia Division of Tourism and Parks
Official state site (information on government and economy)
Division of Culture and History (information on historical sites and resources)

Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, is on the required reading list for many schoolchildren. Shiloh is the dog named by Marty, the 11 year old narrator of this story. The little beagle has been abused by a neighbor, and Marty is determined to not return him to his threatening neighbor, Judd Travers.

This is a gritty story at times; the suspense over whether or not Marty will have Shiloh taken away from him spills over into the two books that follow Shiloh. But it's unquestionably a modern classic, and it's difficult to resist an amazing book about a boy and his dog.

Shiloh Season continues the story, and Saving Shiloh is the final book in the trilogy.

When Laurence Yep was a child, he heard more stories about West Virginia, where his grandmother, aunt, uncles, and mother lived for many years, than China. Star Fisher and its sequel, Dream Soul, were inspired by their stories.

The Star Fisher takes place in 1927, shortly after Joan Lee and her mother, father, sister, and brother move from Ohio to West Virginia. The Lee family is the first Chinese-American family in the small West Virginia town, and they are met with suspicion and prejudice. A friendly (and forceful) landlord help them make inroads into the community, but another conflict is brewing at home.

A common theme in Asian-American literature is the conflict between Asian-born parents and American born children. Joan's parents, like many Chinese immigrants of the time, never intended to permanently settle in the States. Their talk of returning to China (and thus the need for Chinese lessons and remembering how to "act Chinese") annoys Joan, who rails against their exacting and demanding expectations of her.

The trends and attitudes of the 1920s are definitely alive throughout the book, but conflicting feelings toward parents, making new friends in a new area, and sibling troubles are universal in any age. Dream Soul continues the story of the Lee family, where the issue of Christmas is a central problem, along with a snobby schoolmate and a mysterious new classmate in the picture.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant is the shortest novel in this bundle, but packs quite an emotional punch in its 89 pages. May was Summer's aunt and Ob's wife, and they are missing her terribly ever since she died. Ob has sunk into a depression, and Summer is mourning the brief and only time she had a stable family environment since her own mother's death. When their young friend Cletus tells them about a spiritualist who claims to speak with the dead, Ob, Summer, and Cletus pack up for a road trip to talk with May once more.

Their journey to meet with the spiritualist does not end the way they expected, but the journey creates a greatly needed release. Aching grief permeates the pages, but this has a quietly joyous ending. Missing May is a remarkable read.

These six books are thoughtful, meaty, and emotional reads. You shouldn't miss them.

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