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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 6 months ago

28 September 2004 OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA (Newbery Honor book) by Jennifer L. Holm. HarperCollins, 1999. 247 pages. $15.95. ISBN: 0-06-027822-6; Lib. ISBN: 0-06-028354-8.


I'm a guy who lives in a farmhouse on a hillside amidst four women of various ages. If I count in all the warm-blooded critters on the farm, there are sixteen of "them" and three of "us"--a goofy male retriever named Samwise, a young and excitable male Nubian dairy goat, Cool Hunter (named for a character in the book, SO YESTERDAY), and me.


I serve on the Best Books for Young Adults committee which consists of fourteen female librarians and myself. I am represented by a female member of Congress, two female members of the US Senate, and a female member of the State Assembly. Often a Saturday afternoon will find another six to eight female schoolmates--friends of our girls--giggling and screaming around the farm.


Thus I kind of know what it feels like to be May Amelia.


"There's no accounting for luck, especially luck in getting brothers."


May Amelia is a twelve year old girl living in Washington State in 1899 with her parents and her seven brothers. There is not another girl in her neck of the woods with whom to play or commiserate. There are Indians, bears, cougars, logging camps, a school you reach by boat, and one more baby on the way.


Will this baby turn out to (finally) be another girl?


Jennifer Holm does a superb job of characterizing each of May Amelia's seven brothers. (One, Kaarlo, is technically a blood cousin--and a rather grumpy and rude one at that--who lives with them.)


I really like Isahiah who is in charge of the family herd of sheep. Having quietly named each of the sheep after one of their human neighbors--based upon the sheeps' visages and those of the neighbors'--there is a hysterical scene that follows Isahiah's opening a door and yelling, "Hurry! Mrs. Peterson has broken her back out in the south pasture," and May Amelia's dad then ordering another brother to fetch Mrs. Peterson's son Lonny on his way out there.


But the special brother--the one who is charged with keeping his eye on their sister, is close to her age,and is always there for her--is Wilbert.


"For every evil God sends to me he sends an angel and I know sure for certain that Wilbert is my guardian angel."


The evilest of those "gifts" turns out to be a grandmother from hell who comes to live with her family.


Through the series of adventures that together make up OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, we get a real sense of the frontier that still existed in the Pacific Northwest a mere hundred years ago. We also get the fascinating paradox of having most of the males in her life constantly chiding May Amelia to be a Proper Young Lady while most of the grownup ladies around her are really pretty tough frontier women. And, finally, we get a lively portrait of a sister surrounded by brothers who is so often struggling to just be "one of the boys."


Richie Partington




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