Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco and I put it right on top of the stack.
I found the title on the ALSC Notable Book Nominee list and had no idea what it was about. What a find. The author pulls the reader in from the beginning and doesn't let go until the very end. Bee is an orphan traveling with a carnival during World War II. Her parents were killed in a car accident and she is being taken care of by the young woman, Pauline, who runs the hot dog cart. Bee also works the cart, helping Pauline with the onion chopping and hot dog grilling. It doesn't sound like much of a life for an 11 year old, but Bee and Pauline make the best of it. Pauline doesn't see a way out of the life, Bee is ever hopeful that they will end up in a house and the traveling will stop.
Bee is strong, not only does she have an incredibly difficult life, she has an unfortunate birthmark on her cheek shaped like a diamond. The fact that she is traveling with a carnival makes people think she is part of the sideshow and they talk about the mark in all sorts of negative hurtful ways. Bee copes by making sure her hair is hanging over her cheek, hiding from the mean folks who come to the carnival.
Kimberly Newton Fusco creates amazing characters that bring out all sides of Bee's character. The carnival owner, Ellis, who Bee says has snakes under his hat he is so mean. Ellis brings out Bee's strength. He sees her as a future sideshow gold mine, putting her in a booth and charging people to come stare at her birthmark.
Bobby, the man who takes care of the pig races, shows us that Bee is wise beyond her years when it comes to judging people. She sees how Bobby really feels about Pauline when Pauline can't see past the pig smell. Bobby is Bee's biggest protector, teaching her to run so she can escape mean people and to spit, in case she can't.
Bee is visited, when things get tough, by a lady in a floppy hat. Nobody else can see her and Pauline always gets angry with Bee for talking about an imaginary friend. As the story moves forward and Bee escapes from the carnival this lady is joined by another and Mrs. Swift and Mrs. Potter become Bee's care givers even though no one else can see them.
Along the way Bee meets all sorts of folks, some who are mean, like most of the school staff when she enrolls herself and some that are wonderful, like her classmate Ruth Ann's mom.
The book is written in short chapters that are only 1 to 3 pages long and even though it is 329 pages long it moves quickly. What an amazing book to behold! I will be recommending it to all of my 5th graders and some of my better 4th grade readers. The Newbery Club will for sure find it on one of their reading lists.