Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Letters to Missy Violet by Rebecca Hathaway

For about an hour yesterday I was living in an African American neighborhood in about 1929 - such is the power of the writing in this book - I was totally transported.  Letters to Missy Violet is a small but powerful book.

I have now discovered that this is the second book in a series (the first is called Missy Violet and me) but I can honestly say this book does stand alone since I had no sense that I was reading a sequel.

One of the things I should do when I read books is record how I came to find them.  Thinking about it I remember I put this book onto my Kindle because I saw a review in Horn Book and when I see books with one or two stars (their highest rating) I often stop and consider purchasing them.  I will now buy a print copy of this book for my library because I do think students, especially girls, in senior primary classes would enjoy meeting Viney.

Viney is the narrator of this story set in the rural south.  As the book opens the children in this small country school have a new teacher and Viney's friend Miss Violet has left to look after her brother who lives in Tallahassee. Miss Violet is the town midwife and she is a lady of wisdom who has has great skills with healing using plants.  Viney has been learning about these remedies along with assisting with baby catching.  Rebecca Hathaway tells this story through a series of letters between Viney and Miss Violet.  Viney talks about school, her family and the community and we gain a very intimate insight into her life and the lives of those around her.

"When Missy Violet and I are not catching a baby we visit the sick and shut-in. She takes them teas and poultices and creams. Sometimes she just sits there and talks to them. I like that part of helping the sick.  I like helping people get better. It gives me a good feeling inside. And I like to hold new babies after they are born."

I especially liked the characters in this book - I felt as though I was part of the family or perhaps one of the children in Viney's class.  Along with the small town story the bigger picture of the Depression, African American rights, poverty and even the KKK are mentioned.  Also there is a strong (but not overly didactic) message in this book about the value of education which as a teacher I did appreciate.

The Kirkus reviewer said : Like a warm cup of alphabet soup, this offering packs several essential ingredients--hope, love, despair, courage, family, honor--into a hearty, child-size blend.

You can read a detailed review here.

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