Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Faith, Hope and Ivy June -- City Mouse, Country Mouse

I recently saw the new Phyllis Reynolds Naylor book Faith, Hope and Ivy June on a Newbery watch list I was looking at, and since this whole library, literacy, blog path I'm on started with looking for Newbery winners, I picked it up at my local branch of the library when I saw it on the new books table.

The premise of the book is an exchange student program between a private girls' school, Buckner Academy, in Lexington, KY and the mountain school at Thunder Creek, a coal mining community deep in the hollows of the Appalachian Mountains.

The two girls, Ivy June Mosley of Thunder Creek and Catherine Combs of Lexington, are chosen in very different ways. Catherine was required to write an essay expressing why she wanted to participate and what she hopes to gain from the experience. Ivy June just had to make sure it was ok with her parents and then her name was placed in a coffee can for a drawing.

Ivy June lives with her grandparents, ever since her parents' house got too crowded with kids, in a small house that has no indoor plumbing, heated with a coal stove, and Mammaw uses a wood stove to prepare delicious home cooked meals. Catherine lives in a good sized home with 4 indoor bathrooms, air conditioning and a lady who comes to help prepare the meals while her mother recovers from pneumonia.

Ivy June's father is unable to find steady work due to his poor health and her family depends on help from her Pappaw who has worked in a coal mine since the age of 15. He doesn't like the work but is determined to be the hardest working man in the mine. Ivy June's older sister also helps out with her job at the sweatshirt factory. Catherine's father runs the family printing business that he took over from his father, who took it over from his father. He doesn't necessarily hate the work, but his dream was to be a commercial pilot. Now his dream is for one of his children, preferably his son, to take over the business from him.

Ivy June's family doesn't have a phone because the phone company hasn't gotten around to running a line that deep into the hollow. They depend on the phone at the general store or the school or Sam Freeley who has a short wave radio to communicate with the outside world. Catherine has a cell phone and computer and uses them to stay in touch with friends and family.

Ivy June and the neighbors gather at Earl's General Store on a Friday to dance in the parking lot socialize. Catherine's family attend musicals at the Lexington Opera House after eating dinner at sit down restaurant.

Ivy June's family doesn't really encourage her dreams, but they don't discourage them either. The motto of the family is "Want what you have and that will be enough." Their simple life suits them, but there is the feeling that getting out of the life style is discouraged. All the kids have chores and must contribute in order for families to survive. Catherine's family is full of encouragement and positive reinforcement for the children, but Catherine at one point questions whether she and her siblings are really "needed" for anything other than completing the family.

Faith, Hope and Ivy June is a wonderful look at contrasts between two very distinct life styles, but it also, through family tragedies, points out how, regardless of where we live, we have just as much in common. I'm thinking some 5th grade girls are really going to love this story.


  1. This is tooooo funny! I was going to blog about this book tonight. You beat me to it. Loved the book, agree with you about 5th grade girls, not sure about Newbery.

  2. This sounds a bit quirky/dysfunctional for my taste, but I love Naylor, so will read it.