Monday, January 22, 2018

The moon over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

I picked up The Moon over High Street because I read Tuck Everlasting in my very first school library and it is a story that has lingered with me for over 30 years.  If you have an ambition to be a writer (perhaps for children) I would recommend looking for this book also by Natalie Babbitt.  What struck me as I read The Moon over High Street were all the decisions I seemed to hear Natalie Babbitt making about her characters - the path seemed to divide for them so many times.

Joe has lost both of his parents but he was so very young when this happened it is not really a source of sadness.  He has a loving Gran who has cared for him for his twelve years.  They had planned to travel to see their only other relative Aunt Myra in Midville but Gran has broken her hip and will need time to recover so Joe travels to Midville alone on the bus.  Living in this same town is a self made millionaire named Anson Boulderwall.  He is originally from Poland and his name is really Anselm Boldivol.  Mr Boulderwall is concerned about succession planning.  His only daughter (now an adult and married) has no interest in his business.  He invented the "swervit" which is used in engines all over America and this has made his millions.  When he meets Joe and hears his name Casimir he hatches a plan.  Casimir is a Polish name.  Joe is an orphan and he seems to be a very bright boy.  Without talking to Joe, Mr Boulderwall plans an education for Joe and a life journey filled with money and prestige but is this what Joe himself would choose?

Looking at those plot decisions:

  • Joe expects to feel uncomfortable with Aunt Myra - instead she has his perfect room ready and on the first night they eat pizza and ice cream followed by breakfast the next day: "Pancakes and bacon, Joe ... Hope you like them.' Like them! Who didn't? ... There was orange juice, too, and butter and maple syrup and they sat down and began to eat as if they'd been together every morning of their lives."
  • Joe expects to miss his friends especially Emily Crouse - instead there is a huge friendly family living next to Aunt Myra and Beatrice is just his age.  She takes him on a town tour on the first day and the two become instant friends.  Beatrice provides a fresh view in the face of Joe's reticence to talk about his future plans.
  • I expected a disaster.  Gran is sent a letter from the lawyers of Mr Boulderwall outlining his plan for Joe. She quickly organises to come to Midville and meet him face to face.  I thought oh no, there will be a car accident and Joe will have to face these adults alone but no Gran arrives safely and she takes a tough stand with the presumptuous millionaire.  "My grandson is not for sale. Not now, not ever. ... Joe's dream is to learn things. Discover things. ... No, my grandson is not for sale. And neither, by the way, is the moon.  Goodbye."

I love the little touches in this writing such as this description of the hall mirror in the big house :
"On the wall behind the table, an immense and heavy mirror framed in fussy gilt curlicues frowned out at them as if to say they should keep their reflections to themselves."

Here is a book talk from Scholastic.  Here is an interview with Natalie Babbitt about her book. Read an extract from Chapter 2 here.  Sadly Natalie died in 2016 so this is her last book.

Read some reviews
Book Page
Jen Robinson's Book Page

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