Monday, March 31, 2014

Reading: The Mighty Miss Malone

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The Mighty Miss Malone, published by Scholastic in 2012, is the second book that I have read that is authored by Christopher Paul Curtis.  Just like The Watson's Go to Birmingham - 1963 (the focus of my last post), this novel includes meaningful moments that tell the story of Deza Malone and her family during The Great Depression.

Times are tough, but the Malones are on the journey to something "wonderful."  Deza's father is always out of work, and her mother works hard at cleaning the house of the wealthiest family in town.  Deza's older brother, Jimmie, hasn't grown an inch since he was twelve years old, but what he lacks in height he makes up for with his beautiful singing voice.  On top of the struggles that families endured during The Great Depression - bugs in the oatmeal, scarce food to go around, no medical care - the Malone family has an even more severe crisis to deal with when Mr. Malone goes fishing on Lake Michigan and survives a near fatal accident that causes him to lose his teeth, his strength, and his spirit.  In a quest to find work, he leaves his family behind in Gary, Indiana and travels to Flint, Michigan.  Soon, Mrs. Malone finds herself unemployed and packs up the few belongings that the family has to search for him.  After hitching a ride on a railcar, they spend their nights in a small hut that eventually becomes home for Deza.  The family is always on the move, but in the hut, they have not yet found wonderful, as their journey continues.  Soon, Jimmies leaves his family behind to go looking for his own wonder, and Deza continues to be alarmed at the absence of Jimmie and her father.  But when Deza does learn of her brother's whereabouts, she is determined to find him and reunite her family once and for all.

The Mighty Miss Malone is a unique book because it is the only book that I have read that shows an African-American family enduring the effects of The Great Depression.  I also liked this book because the characters are introduced to readers in an in-depth way and showcase many unique personality traits that are enjoyable to read about.  Deza is in love with words and is a sweet-natured girl, but she does have a "second brain" that sometimes persuades her to do things that most girls don't do -  like beat up people in defense of her older, but smaller, brother.  She and her best friend, Clarice, are true buddies and only feel sincere happiness for one another; they are not jealous of each other as characters often are in children's books.  Jimmie is adventurous and often gets into trouble, but he always has good intentions and is determined to be the man of the family when his father leaves.  Their mother is good-hearted and hard-working and makes jokes with her children that are smooth like butter.  And their father loves to tell stories and use alliteration, although he seems a ghost of his former self when he returns from the fateful trip on Lake Michigan.  It is also a book that brings into consciousness the importance of having well-written books to represent people of all cultures.  While living in Gary, Indiana, young Deza was able to read many books about African-American children like herself.  When she moves to Flint, the teachers assign books about white children that she cannot relate to.  I am grateful that Christopher Paul Curtis writes books starring African-American families that are well-written, insightful, and historically accurate.

I often discuss books that are packaged nicely together, leaving no ends undone, and  The Mighty Miss Malone is one of those books.  And after reading it, I feel more understanding for, and more empathy towards, people that lived during The Great Depression.  Interestingly, the author's note expresses that many African-American families are still living with the effects of the depression, as are Hispanic families.  It seems that it was mostly white families that regained their financial strength.  I have been aware of the socioeconomic differences among different races, but I had never thought about how particular races were able to bounce back after the Depression, while others were not.  In writing this book, Christopher Paul Curtis had two purposes: to write a book for readers to enjoy, which I did, and to give a voice to the children that live in poverty each day.  In fact, many of the ideas incorporated into his book were gleaned when he was reading through old letters that children of the depression wrote to President Roosevelt.  Reading his afterword was affecting to me, as I have always taught in schools where the majority of children do live in poverty!  It is a tough battle to fight, but the Malone family gives it everything they've got to overcome. 

Introducing students to The Mighty Miss Malone would be an excellent literary addition to the study of the Great Depression, as it focuses on the struggles of children.  It is well-written, entertaining, thought-provoking, humorous (at times), and heartbreaking (more often).  If you would like to read this book on your own, you can check it out at your local library!

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