Every single person knows what it's like to want something more than anything else in the whole wide world and having parents who completely disagree with this desire. As far as said parents are concerned, as long as you are living under their roof, this is not going to happen. Does that stop children from still believing this is a possibility? It does not. In fact, they will devote every waking (and sleeping) moment to figuring out how they can make this dream come true.
Most guy and gals, at one time or another have wanted a pet. For many of them the only pet which will bring them total and complete joy is a dog. In her debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 7, 2017) Kristin L. Gray introduces us to a remarkable girl, not yet ten years old, who is determined to bring a dog into her family.
The day I was born I was four times smaller than the trophy largemouth bass hanging in my daddy's shop. My entire hand fit on Dr. Lafferty's thumbnail. Nobody, Mama included, had planned on me arriving three months early.
This is Vilonia Beebe. She has a twelve-year-old brother named Leon who is more pest than human. Her all-around great guy dad who can fry the tastiest catfish anyone has ever eaten is a fishing guide. Her mama is the happy life force of the family but is currently suffering greatly having lost her own mother forty-three days ago. She rarely leaves her bedroom.
Now, besides her family, Vilonia loves her next-door neighbor and forever friend Ava Claire, a girl with a dancer's heart, softball and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. India Opal's love of Winn-Dixie is the chief reason Vilonia has the Great Pet Campaign fully operational though for the time being not too successful. This is all about to change because of Eleanor Roosevelt.
No, this is not the dearly departed first lady and wife of President Franklin Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt is a fine egg-laying chicken, the pride of the Willoughby family. You should also know the Willoughby twins, Rory and Ransom, friends of Leon, are charming, handsome and pranksters of the highest order. (The family also owns the local fireworks business.)
On the way to her opening softball game for her pitching debut, Vilonia rescues Eleanor from a hit-and-run accident. After delivering her to the local vet, she notices a sign there proclaiming the benefits of owning a dog, especially for those people feeling blue. Click. Now Vilonia has even more reason to have a dog. She needs to bring her loving mama out of her sadness.
Miss Bettina is the editor of the local newspaper and Vilonia's mama's boss. Her mama writes the obituaries for the paper; well, she did until forty-three days ago. Her mama thinks Miss Bettina has been writing them. We readers discover who is really writing them.
Obituaries, puppies, stink bombs, Mr. Reyes, the school librarian, the library goldfish, Max, Ray Charles, spring break, sour cream pound cake, Viking funerals, Miss Hazel Sogbottom, the vet's assistant, and the Howard County's 47th Annual Catfish Festival are all ingredients in an amazing quest to demonstrate responsibility. You will laugh out loud, cheer and fall in love with the characters in this book (even Miss Bettina) as they shape Vilonia's world in Howard County, Mississippi. The conclusion will lift your soul like a balloon on a gentle breeze and fill your heart with happiness.
Kristin L. Gray writes with such clarity and description you will read this with a Southern accent in your mind. (In fact, I am thinking with a Southern accent as I write this blog post.) Told through Vilonia's point of view the story is intimately tied to readers. We connect with Vilonia's thoughts. We understand all the characters' personalities through the conversations. We feel as though we are members of the community in which they all live.
The narrative flows flawlessly from one moment to the next with true-to-life emotions and events. Gray ties all of the life threads from other characters' lives into a beautiful blend. Here are some sample passages.
"It's a perfect day to play ball!" I held my arms out to the sun, and a cool breeze brushed my face. It was the Thursday afternoon before spring break. Nana loved spring. "Nana would love today."
"She sure would, Tadpole. She loved to watch you play." Daddy reached into the cab of his truck and tossed my lucky glove my way. I snatched it midair and ran my fingers across its smooth leather.
"And what about Mama?" I asked, and stabbed the dirt with my toe. "Think she'll feel like coming?"
Daddy's eyes changed from sunny to cloudy with a chance of rain. "The forecast changes daily when it comes to Mama, Vi. But I can ask. You know she's your biggest fan."
"I know." I tried to hide my disappointment. I knew Daddy was doing his absolute best to take care of us, Mama included. But I've learned grief has no rules. She'll make herself at home, eat all your best snacks, sleep in your bed, and no matter what you do or say, sometimes nothing on earth can make her leave.
Ava Claire was all ruffles and tutus and sparkly dance shoes---everything I wasn't. I'd played softball since I could swing a bat, but Ava Claire wasn't interested the minute she laid her brown eyes on those "ugly spiked shoes." She's rather twirl onstage in scratchy sequins under one thousand-watt lights. Yeah, we went together like toothpaste and orange juice, but if anyone tried picking on either one of us, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.
I looked to the back of the bus, hoping to catch Rory's eye, but Mr. Danny, our bus driver who's older than dirt but somehow still has his driver's license, came over the loud speaker.
"I need everyone to listen up and sit down. I've survived two hurricanes, a wife, and a war. I'm getting y'all to school safe and sound. Ya' hear?
There is so much laughter, life and love in Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge written by Kristin L. Gray you will read it in one sitting and eagerly start it all over again. After reading several pages aloud to a group of third grade students, hands went in the air to be the first to read it cover to cover. This would make for a great read aloud. Make sure you have a copy for your personal and professional bookshelves.
You are going to enjoy visiting Kristin L. Gray's website by following the link attached to her name. The information she shares is like sitting down to chat with her one on one. There is a special post at Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., to celebrate the cover reveal. Kristin is interviewed at author Wendy McLeod MacKnight's site, Tuesday Writers, author Patricia Bailey's site, and author Melissa Roske's site.