The Mighty Miss Malone

3 06 2012

Christopher Paul Curtis not only has the coolest last name in children’s literature (I met him once and he signed a copy of Bud, Not Buddy to “one of my favorite coz’s”), he also has three nope, make that four of the best middle grades novels I’ve ever read.

Watson’s Go To Birmingham – 1963 was the first of his books that I read.  It’s a fantastic story about an African-American family in Flint, Michigan at the height of the Civil Rights movement.  The first half of the book is a series of hilarious stories about the family members, especially the trouble the oldest brother Byron gets into.  These little unconnected stories tell all about why the family is known as the Weird Watsons.  There are toy paratroopers set on fire in a toilet, a teenage boy who get’s his tongue frozen to the side of a car, and all sorts of hilarious events.  Then it gets serious.  Byron gets in enough trouble that the Watson’s decide to head down south the Birmingham, Alabama to visit grandma.  Life in the South for an African-American family is much different that it is in Michigan.

The last few chapter have you holding your breath to see what happens.

Next, I read Bud, Not Buddy, about a African-American boy in the 1930s who runs away from a foster home to find his way in the world.  Anyone who ever wondered what life is like during the Great Depression should check this book out.  With the way today’s economy is, there are a lot of parallels to be made.  I won’t summarize the book, but Bud is one of my all time favorite characters, and this one is the only book to ever win both the the Newbery Award and the Coretta Scott King Award.  That’s pretty incredible.

Curtis’ next book (at least the next one I read) was Elijah of Buxton.  Buxton is a community in southern Canada founded by escaped slaves, and this book takes place just after the end of the Civil War.  Elijah is the first free child born in Buxton.  This book is set up a lot like Watsons, with each chapter at the beginning telling funny little stories about Elijah and the people of his community.  Then it gets real.  Like the other two books, it has an amazing character and really brings you into history.  Elijah of Buxton almost topped the honors Bud, Not Buddy received.   It won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, The Coretta Scott King Award, and was a Newbery Honor book.
The characters in all of Curtis’ books are great.  Kenny Watson, Bud, and Elijah will all stick with me for a long, long time, but Deza Malone is something special.  She’s so real that sometimes you want to reach into the page and give her a hug, sometimes you want to cheer for her, sometimes you want to yell at her to not do what she’s about to do, but in the end you just smile, glad that you’ve met her.  It sounds silly, but she’s such an amazing, perfectly created character that you really do feel as if you’ve met her.  Finally, I just finished Curtis’ lastest book.  This time, in The Mighty Miss Malone, Curtis returns to the Great Depression and tells the story of Deza Malone and her family.  Deza is actually a minor character, seen for just a few pages in Bud, Not Buddy, and Bud shows up for a few pages in this story.  Deza’s family, like almost everyone in the mid 1930s is down on their luck.

I can not recommend this book enough.  I think it’s the perfect book for kids to read the summer between 6th and 7th grade, since the Great Depression is covered in 7th grade social studies.  In fact, make it a combo deal – a little Deza with a side of Bud, why not read both books?

This was #13 on my quest to read 90 books in 90 days this summer.  So far, it’s my favorite.

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