Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Book Review: The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis & The Art of Miss Chew by Patricia Polacco

Summer's almost over, but there's still time to catch up on a pair of recent children's books by highly talented Michigan authors.

      "The Mighty Miss Malone", by Newberry Medal Award winning author Christopher Paul Curtis (Wendy Lamb/Random House, $15.99) is a fine, insightful, and carefully crafted book. 

      It is told from the viewpoint of a 12-year-old Dez Malone, growing up during the Depression, who first appeared in Watson's classic 2002 children's novel "Bud, Not Buddy."

      Dez lives in Gary, Indiana with her older brother Jimmie and her parents; she's exceptionally smart but faces many challenges. Her brother is shorter, more likely to get in trouble and has "a voice like an angel."

      The excellent novel is broken up into a series of brief and compelling vignettes, dealing with the assorted adventures of the African American family. 

      The unwary reader should be ready for a roller-coaster ride of emotional scenes that vary from hilarious and poignant to surprising and heartbreaking. 

      There are many intriguing images of the struggle for survival during the 1930's; racism, patriotism, honesty and personal growth are only a few of the subjects covered. 

      The action takes place mostly in Gary and in Flint. As Mr. Malone leaves Gary in an attempt to find work, the other members of the Malone family lose touch and soon follow, taking a memorable train journey. A small, but highly important scene takes place in Lansing.

      Dez notes, "You can tell you are reading a really good book when you forget all about everything else and know you'll die if you don't get to at least the end of the chapter."

      She's a little overly dramatic, but she's right. This book is tough to put down and is a strong candidate for many outstanding literary awards. Curtis, who grew up in Flint, currently resides in Detroit.

      "The Art of Miss Chew" by Union City author Patricia Polacco (Putnam's, $17.95) is a funny, well-illustrated book designed for young readers.

      Patricia has problems with tests at school but can draw amazingly well. A teacher notices and encourages her to go to Miss Chew, who's teaching a special high school art class.

      A substitute teacher intervenes and wants Patricia to quit; the talented artist is learning quickly and doesn't want to stop.

      Based on her own life experiences, Polacco's book is highly entertaining and inspirational. It's ideal for libraries or children whose goals seem out of reach.

      Polacco, who has created over 50 picture books, was born in Lansing, and grew up in Williamston.

      Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed Michigan books and crime novels regularly since 1987. 

This review was originally published by the
Lansing State Journal on Sunday, August 27, 2012.

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