Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hunting For Home

There is a tiny treasure resting on my bookshelves among all my gardening books.  On my birthday it was a gift from my mom and dad.  The inscription reads

June 11, 1980
To our daughter who is as lovely as a flower-----
Happy Birthday, Margie
With love,
Dad and Mom

They each wrote their own names; their signatures as distinctive as they were.  The book, The Language of Flowers, was originally published in 1968.  Printed in England my edition is the fourth printing in 1976.  This volume lists over seven hundred flowers with their meanings.

Seven kinds of daisies are listed.  In Tracy Holczer's debut middle grade novel, The Secret Hum of a Daisy, daisies figure prominently.  Considering the ox-eye daisy is prevalent in the wild I decided to look up what it represents.

Daisy, Ox Eye, .... A Token


All I had to do was walk up to the coffin.  

Twelve-year-old Grace is at her mother's funeral.  For all the years of her life, it has always been her and her mother alone moving from place to place; fourteen new schools in total for Grace.  Now she would be living with her maternal grandmother, a woman who, before Grace was born, had asked Grace's mother to leave her home after Grace's dad and grandfather were killed in an automobile accident.

In Grace's mind this woman who sent her own daughter away could not possibly want Grace.  At her Grandmother's house, she refuses to live inside taking up residence in her grandfather's workshop.  Here she can't hear the nearby river; its sound a painful memory of her mother's drowning.

After nine months, the longest time they have ever stayed in one place, Grace has grown to love living with Mrs. Greene and her daughter, Lacey, who has become her best friend.  When her mother wants to move again, Grace takes a stand arguing.  That discussion and afterward, those words exchanged in frustration, anger and disappointment is the last time Grace sees her mother alive.

Wishing for Before, afraid of After but needing to connect with life, a new person in a new small town, Grace like many experiencing loss of a loved one is looking for a promise.  When she finds a folded silver origami crane in the bushes on her way to school she believes it is a sign from her mom. In each new home her mom would create a scavenger hunt for Grace.  More and more clues are seen and collected.  Who is leaving these for Grace and why?

Origami cranes, larger cranes fashioned from found metal objects with messages tucked inside, a horse named Beauty, a park, a school project, a field of daisies, spoons and an Egyptian death ceremony are important pieces in Grace building a foundation, finding her place. Poetry, writing letters and stories told by supportive community members and family friends strengthen the framework providing shelter.  Will windows and a door open into Grace's heart?

With the single first sentence, readers, like Grace, are seeking answers.  We want to know more about her Grandmother Jessup, her dad, the community members, teachers and staff at school, Mrs.Greene and Lacey, the next door neighbors, Jo, Max and Mr. and Mrs. Brannigan and...her mother. Their roles are important in shaping Grace's new life.

Tracy Holczer builds her characters conversation by conversation.  We listen to Grace's thoughts as she weighs the pros and cons of her choices.  Talking, thinking and journal writing shape a picture of the past, present and possible future.

We want to understand the significance of the treasure hunt and its link to the meaning of home.  Using the clues and the placement of the paper cranes, we travel from place to place, idea to idea, on a road of discovery right along with Grace.  This moves the narrative briskly with a gentle tension.  Here are some samples of Tracy Holczer's writing in this title.

Each of her birds held a sorrow or a wish---all her sleepless nights and worries, all her hopes for the future---formed into words and sketches tucked deep inside those birds and meant to fly away.  Before that day, I didn't know what she might be worried about, what might have made her feel sorrowful.  I only understood my own sorrows, the way they would settle into the empty spaces meant to be filled by other things---a father, a place to call home---and I didn't know how to scrape them out now.

"You need to give her a name," I said.
"Give who a name?" Grandma said.
"The truck.  We had a name for our car and Mama talked real nice to her, like with plants.  That car always started right up."
"You want me to talk to the truck?" Grandma said real quiet, like it was occurring to her I might have slipped clear off my nut.
Sheriff Bergum looked amused.  "Come on, Miranda.  Give it a try."
"I most certainly will not."
Just to poke at her, I ran my hand along the crisp green metal.  "There you go Granny Smith.  You take your time. I know you can do it."
When I walked to the tailgate, Grandma stared at me through the rearview mirror; her eyes almost kind.
"You can give it a try again," I said.
In a shuddering cough of smelly gray smoke, the truck started right up.  Even I was surprised.

"You will go your whole life Gracie May, and every single person in it will fail you in one way or another.  It's all about repair.  It's all about letting yourself change those pictures."

The Secret Hum of a Daisy written by Tracy Holczer is about feeling hopeless and finding hope, never having a place to call home and finding people who make a house a home and it's about love helping to fill the hole of loss.  It's about being human but extending ourselves for the benefit of others, knowing everyone's lives will be richer for the efforts.  This is a memorable, moving debut.

You will find information about Tracy Holczer, this book (the first chapter for you to read) and a study guide by following the link embedded in her name to access her website.  This link takes you to a page explaining her free Skype visits.  It also includes links to blog posts during her tour, a post at Nerdy Book Club, Unleashing Readers and an American Booksellers Association Q & A. At OneFour KidLit is an additional interview.

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