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Rosengren, Gayle. What the Moon Said; illus. by Jonathan Bean. Putnam, 2014. [224p]. ISBN 978-0-399-16352-4 $16.99 Reviewed from galleys R* Gr. 3-5.

A ring around the moon is an omen; so is seeing a spider before breakfast or crows atop a fence, and opening an umbrella inside the house. Esther’s Ma imparts these old-world lessons to her children in their Chicago home, where they live a modest but happy life until the onset of the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job and the family moves to a small farm in Wisconsin, ten-year old Esther embraces the adventure, excelling in school and devising new ways of getting taciturn Ma—who’s particularly reserved with Esther—to love her. Their exciting pioneer life takes a bleak turn as food becomes scarce, the family must sell their possessions, and Ma’s temper shortens with each passing day. When Esther falls deathly ill, she learns the difference between demonstrative affection and love in action and realizes that omens are often what we make of them. Rosengren’s depiction of the Great Depression from a child’s perspective rings true, with the direness of financial circumstances not as keenly felt as the desire for approval from one’s mother. Though Esther’s constant worry over her mother’s love feels forced at times, the sentiment will resonate with young readers whose parents show love in ways other than constant displays. The author’s keen understanding of the emotions and preoccupations of late childhood shine through Esther, including the struggle to interpret adult behavior and reconcile family rules with personal truths. Sensitive and engaging, this novel would work as an accompaniment to a classroom unit [End Page 373] on the Great Depression, as well as in the hands of a child who thinks her parent loves her but isn’t always sure.



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pp. 373-374
Launched on MUSE
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