Friday, March 18, 2011

Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Summary of Moon over Manifest
From Barnes and Noble website
Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was. Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.” Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.  

Moon over Manifest is the winner of the 2011 Newbery Medal.   I have read many Newbery winning novels.  Nearly all of them are outstanding.  This book is no exception.  Moon over Manifest is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction.   Many of story elements are based on newspaper articles, family anecdotes, and historical happenings.  The complex and well-written story is engaging.  The narrative moves fluidly between the present (1936) and the past (1917).  The story of the town in 1917 in many ways mirrors life in 1936 which creates an added intricacy.  Author Clare Vanderpool helps to connect the two time periods using a box of mementos, letters, newspaper clippings, and storytelling, all generating allure and mystery.  Vanderpool has created some remarkable, multi-dimensional characters.  They take on a deeper significance as they are seen through both the past and the present.   As the reader, I became invested in the lives of many of the characters, such as Abilene, Jinx, Ned, and Miss Sadie.  

The main protagonist is 12 years old, but the story is as much about the teens and adults in the town.   Based on the complex non-linear plot line and story content, I recommend this book for ages 12 and up. 

Teaching Opportunities:
·         Writing—Find an interesting newspaper article (past or present); write a short story using the details as a spring board—add your own details and dialogue
·         Plot—Define linear vs. non-linear; discuss how the author uses a non-linear plot to create mystery, depth, and complexity
·         Characterization—Compare Abilene to Jinx and Miss Sadie to Ned or Parallel Abilene’s search with Miss Sadie’s
·         History—Research events mentioned in the novel, such as Bone Dry Bill of 1917, orphan trains, Spanish influenza, World War I, the Depression, and immigrants
·         Geography—Examine the geographical features of Kansas
·         Literature—Read short stories or poems written/set during 1917 and/or 1936; look for connections to the events in the story
·         Social Studies—Research mining and mining conditions


  1. Thanks for the post! For those who may be interested, Habitat for Humanity has some great new resources available on their website. Teachers and parents can find lesson plans, activities, worksheets, and other materials for children of all ages. Check them out here:

  2. I just reviewed this book on my children's/YA book blog, also designed for teachers. You can check me out at I'm excited to find other teacher-related book blogs!


5 Fabulous African Fiction Picture Books

The Herd Boy Niki Daly, author and illustrator Malusi is a herd boy in a mountainous region of South Africa. He wakes up early each...