Just Dance by Patricia MacLachlan

Just Dance

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Margaret K. McElderry Books, Fiction, Sep, 12,  2017

Suitable for Ages: 7 and up (Grades 3-5)

Themes: Families, Country life, Singer, Reporter, Newspaper writing

Book Synopsis:

Sylvie Bloom does not understand her mother. She used to be a famous opera singer and Sylvie can’t figure out why she would give up her singing career in front of thousands of people for life on their small Casper, Wyoming farm. Sylvie wants something more exciting than that for herself this summer. She wants an adventure.

Sylvie’s teacher, Mrs. Ludolf, notices her writing talent and suggests that Sylvie take over Sheriff Ludolf’s   local newspaper column. Her job will be to report on the local happenings and follow the sheriff on his rounds. But even as she starts writing about town events, Sylvie can’t help but wonder if she and her younger brother, Nate, have been holding their mother back from doing the same. Nate is more philosophical and tells Sylvie she has “too many preconceived notions.” And when her mother’s old duet partner James Grayson writes that he’s coming to perform nearby, will she be tempted to return to the stage, without them?

Why I like this story:

Just Dance is a cozy book and a perfect summer read. MacLachlan has written a heartfelt and lyrical story about family love, community and music, in her signature minimal style. The setting is so vivid that it makes you want to go live on the prairie near Sylvie’s small town.

Throughout the story, Sylvie’s mother’s beautiful voice is heard in the background — a mystery for Sylvie. Her mother sings in the shower, while her family gathers outside the door to listen and name the music. Her mother sings a different song to the cattle, sheep and chickens and they stop to listen. As do the passing neighbors who hear her lilting voice across the fields — even the crows.

MacLachlan’s characters are memorable with emotional depth. Sylvie, like her mother, has her own talents. As she travels about town with the local sheriff reporting the daily news, she admires his wisdom and compassionate approach to solving problems. She meets a kindred spirit in Tinker, who lives very simply with his wolf, Bernie. Tinker is a poet, artist and observer of life and encourages Sylvie, who writes her columns in free verse or as a Haiku poem. Here’s a sample of Sylvie’s artistic way of reporting for the paper, which the community enjoys:

Sheep in the meadow

Blue-eyed man and a sweet friend

A good day of peace. (Meeting Tinker)

_____________

Boys too young to say

Build a fire on windswept day

Sent home, ponder deeds.  (Boys playing with fire)

________________

Wily crowd of crows

Back to plunder Elmer’s corn

Maybe try sweet song?

Just Dance is a quiet novel to savor. It’s about how Sylvie finds a way to express her own unique voice, while she tries to understand her mother’s choice to leave the lime light for a prairie. This is a good book for kids moving into middle grade books. With short chapters, it can also be read out loud to young children.

Patricia MacLachlan is the celebrated author of many timeless novels for young readers, including Newbery Medal winner Sarah, Plain and Tall; Word After Word After Word; Kindred Souls; The Truth of Me; The Poet’s Dog; and My Father’s Words. She is also the author of countless beloved picture books, a number of which she cowrote with her daughter, Emily. She lives in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Truth of Me

The Truth of Me9780061998591_p0_v2_s260x420The Truth of Me

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books/Harper-Collins Publishers, Fiction, June 2013

Suitable for Ages: 6-10

Themes: Grandmothers, Dogs, Animals, Family Relationships

Opening: This is a true story. The truest story ever. You may not believe it. Your loss. But it’s true. I have a witness.”

Synopsis: Robbie’s musician parents send him and his dog, Ellie, to spend the summer with his grandmother Maddy. Robbie’s parents are so absorbed with their music that he feels unnoticed. But, he can be himself with Maddy and her relaxed way of living.  He loves listening to her stories about her adventures with animals in the woods, which no one else believes. Robbie is the only one who experiences Maddy’s gift with wild animals and how they trust her. Both Robbie and Ellie learn about the natural world through Maddy. And, Maddy shares a secret with Robbie about his mother that helps him understand his family dynamics and find “the truth of me.” With this information, Robbie finds the courage to make things right.

Why I like this book: This is a quiet book that celebrates family relationships and special gifts.  Patricia MacLachlan has written a story that is realistic, special and begging to be explored. She has a gift for writing about families and this book is no exception.  The characters are believable, the language is simple and easy for young readers, the narrative gentle and the plot engaging.  Every family has its secrets and kids will curl up with this heartwarming and emotional story as they experience the magic with Robbie and Ellie.  Patricia MacLachlan is a Newberry Medalist for her book Sarah, Plain and Tall.  I reviewed her powerful 2013 picture book about grief and renewal, Snowflakes Fall, which was dedicated to the families of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT.