I love Christopher Paul Curtis’ books. Just so you know up front.
I love his most recent book, The Mighty Miss Malone (823 C941M4 FIC). The writing, the time period, the characters, the strong voice of Deza, and that it revisits one of the characters from Bud, not Buddy (823 C941B FIC), the Newbery winner from 1999, I loved it all.
This makes for a good endorsement but it’s not overly critically, I know. But, there’s just something about the way Curtis writes his characters that allows me to crawl inside their lives accepting them, kit and caboodle, warts and all. He weaves complex stories with elements of humour that allow us to readily buy in. I can’t wait to listen to the audio version on my next road trip.
The Great Depression in 1930s
is taking its toll on the Malone family. This African-American family is struggling to survive and stay together with only one small income to live on. The main protagonist is Deza, a young preteen who’s considered the smartest girl in her class. Her brother, Jimmie, is a bit of a schemer but has an incredible singing voice. Both of their parents are rock solid in their commitment to keeping the family together, until an accident badly injures the father. This incident initiates the family’s separation, their moves to different towns including a hobo camp, and their eventual reunion. America
Back stories include issues about physical and intellecutal superiority between blacks and whites (played out with a boxing match between black Joe Lewis and white Max Schmeling in 1936 and Deza receiving a C in class by a white teacher who can not recognize her abilities), economics, and importance of education, jazz music, community and friendship. This might sound like a lot, enough to over-burden a story but I can’t say I found it so. It works together, creating a rich historical novel about a family we come to care about.
If you’re interested in connecting the book to classroom teaching, check out The Classroom Bookshelf, for lots of interesting teaching ideas. I love how contemporary issues such as child poverty and mass unemployment can be tied to this historical novel.
I highly recommend this novel for grades 4 to 8.