In Kansas' early days as a state, there is no help in the prairie schools for a child with what will later become known as dyslexia. Nor is there help for a farmer whose spring wheat crop has failed.
So it is neither unforeseen, nor unusual when the parents of Mavis Elizabeth Betterly, May B., literally "farm her out" as hired help to a prairie neighbor. Hiram, the Betterly's son, will stay at home, he, being of more use to the frontier family.
The closest homestead is 15 miles away, a full day's journey by wagon. Young May Betterly passes the long hours to the Oblinger's simple, sod house that will be her home until Christmas,
I play a game inside my head,
counting plum trees that dot a creek bed,
rabbits that scatter at the sound of wagon wheels,
clouds that skirt the sky.
For hours, that is all,
in different shades and textures
like the braids in a rag rug.
Miss Sanders told us that lines never end,
and numbers go on forever.
in short-grass country,
I understand infinity.
When Mrs, Oblinger takes a horse and deserts her new husband to return east, Mr. Oblinger goes off in pursuit.
"Don't worry about supper," he says. "I could be gone some time.""Some time" will be longer than May could ever have dreamed. It will take all of her courage, strength and perseverance to survive.
I am afraid
in the dark
I am afraid
In similar style to Karen Hesse's Newbery-winning, Out of the Dust, and Witness, Caroline Starr Rose's novel in verse is deeply affecting. May's honesty in assessing her shortcomings is balanced by her inner optimism that she may yet overcome her situation - against all odds.
We all share that struggle. May B. gives voice and hope to us all.
Teacher's Study Guide for May B.
The librarians of the NJLA's Children's Services Section will likely be discussing this book in the upcoming months on our new mock award blog, Newbery Blueberry Mockery Pie. Please join us.