Quote of the Month

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Giving Wings To Hope

From beginning to end every moment is captivating.  The characters, compelling in every respect, embody all that is right and good and true and shades of the opposite, too.  There are many places in our world literally mirroring the book's setting of mountains and mining, dense forests and valleys with rivers. At the same time these places and scores of other locations are figuratively identical in having the Dust, yellow-eyed monsters, and feeling the absence and silence of riders and weavers of light.  When you complete a captivating title with compelling characters in a scene similar to your own, or one you can easily visualize, heightened with elements of possibility, you can't turn the pages fast enough.  When you are done, the sense of triumph is so complete and sincere, you have no choice.  You must read it again. . .immediately.  And you do.

Upon the second reading, you pause and place small markers at sentences and paragraphs, profound and timeless.  Even though you know the characters, setting and plot, your sensory experience is still exquisite.  At the end, you have tears in your eyes, again.  This is the experience readers will have when reading the latest title, Over the Moon (Scholastic Press, March 26, 2019) written by Natalie Lloyd.

Once there was a girl brave enough
to draw a question mark in the
dust that covered her heart.

Mallie Ramble

Dustflights are trained to sense explosions in the Down 
Honeysuckle is my papa's Dustflight, a tiny yellow bird they give every miner in Coal Top.  When I was a little girl, Honeysuckle brought me heaps of comfort as I watched Papa walk to the mines.  I couldn't go with him to the Down Below.  But our brave yellow bird could.  She perched like a speck of plump sunshine on his shoulder.

For people living in Coal Top, on the tip of Forgotten Mountain, life is a daily drudgery of survival either working in the gold mines for boys and men or for girls and women, toiling as servants for the rich people in Windy Valley.  Twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble has completed her week's work only to be paid for two days, two Feathersworth. (Mrs. Tumbrel can do whatever she desires.)  Her oldest son, Honor Tumbrel, an entitled bully, has left more work for Mallie but also given her, and us, a hint of things to come.

Before Mallie hurries to the train platform for the ride back home, a little bit of miracle floats through an open window at the Tumbrel house.  It's a flat piece of something special, vibrant with tiny rays of color, a Starpatch.  Before the Dust settled and covered the sky, mountain people wove starlight like threads on a loom into cloth which they fashioned into all sorts of things.  This cloth gave people a sense of strength, calm and above all, hope.  There are no more weavers because there are no more stars.

Denver Ramble, Mallie's seven-year-old brother has ridden the train down to meet her.  On the hour ride back to the top, she tells him the story of the Starbirds, large wild horses with enormous wings, that used to carry weavers to the stars every night.  This was before the Dust.  This was before Dustblobs hung in trees and fell on people sucking out everything good in their hearts until they healed.  This was when Forgotten Mountain was called Bright Mountain.  This was when people were still allowed to sing.  This was before monsters with yellow eyes and shaped like nightmares roamed and slithered through the woods at night.

That evening, a terrified Mallie and Denver hide in the loft as Guardians storm into their home.  They are demanding Denver work in the mines unless the family can pay four thousand Feathersworth they owe in debt.  They have only seven days to pay it in full.  (Mallie's father is blind from an accident and he also lost his voice in the mines.)

The next morning, a flyer Honor Tumbrel left in his clothing for Mallie to wash, gives her an idea which could save her family.  She meets a childhood friend of her age, Adam Peyton, with the same flyer and idea.  Together they gather with other boys (boys only and orphans preferred) in the West Woods.  Initially the head Guardian, Mortimer Good, tells them they are to gather gold from the tops of mountains in the surrounding ranges.  These mountains are impossible to climb.  Initially he hands them only a rope and tells them to go into the woods, the woods full of monsters.  Mallie has to do this.  Each completed mission equals one thousand Feathersworth.

What the brave boys and Mallie discover in the woods is the key to the-better-than-best thing.  Mallie's new companion, and the other boys who stay with their companions, face danger beyond anything they can have imagined.  There is treachery among them.  The bond Mallie forges with her companion and her increasing skill regardless of her handicap (She's missing her right arm and hand below her elbow.) spread confidence in her mind and hope in her heart until . . . a sinister evil is revealed.  Chapter by chapter danger, hope and malevolent deeds clash until a breathtaking conclusion leaves you feeling like you are sitting beneath a cascade of fireworks.  Sometimes the hero you and everyone else needs is you.  Who will tell the tale you live?

When Natalie Lloyd writes, you want to step into her worlds.  Even when aspects of fantasy enter the story, you find yourself accepting it as real.  You expect to look up and see a Starpatch floating on the wind.  You expect to hear a noise outside your window because a Starbird wants to go for a midnight ride.  Improbable is not a word ever to be associated with a Natalie Lloyd book.

The dialogue between the characters paints pictures of their personalities.  Her mountain people have fierce loyalties and form friendships for life.  Their love places others first.

Each moment is descriptively described in distinct details.  We are there with the characters.  Here are some passages.

As the night, and the cold, presses in around us, the train circles slowly toward the town on the tip of Forgotten Mountain:  Coal Top.  I always imagine this train looking like a big steel snake.
Hissing as it climbs.
Bright eyes beaming into the darkness.
And we're all here stuck in the belly of the beast . . .
The night wind howls as it blows against the steel.  A lantern swings from the ceiling at the front of our train car, sending firelight flickers across our faces with every jolt.

And then I see it! Close to the ground, I see yellow eyes . . .two beady, bright yellow eyes with black slits in the center.  The eyes are fixed on me.  And they tilt, just slightly, as if the face belonging to those eyes is smiling. 
I back against the tree and slink to the ground.  Cold sweat trickles down my face.  My whole body shakes, fiercely.
I will never make it out of here.  I'll never get out of the West Woods.  I'll never get to tell Mama, Papa, and Denver how much I love them.  Not to their faces, anyway.
" I love you Denver," I whisper.  Fear has flattened most of my voice, but I had to get those words out.  And I hope they float to him like a dream, like a Starpatch, one he can keep forever to think about me.
Suddenly, the air above me is shattered by wild flapping, a sound like quilts snapping against the wind.
Huge quilts.
Something lands on the ground, shaking the earth all around me.

"I'm not finished!" Iggy jabs her finger at her chest, like she's pointing to her heart.  "The name my papa gave me was Iggy Thump.  He also called me brave and smart and wonderful.  So, Iggy means all that to me.  So you can call me crabby if you want, Mallie-girl.  You might be crabby, too, if you were missing somebody like I am.  I don't care what you call me.  Because love told me who I am.  That's all I have to say to you."

Over the Moon written by Natalie Lloyd addresses the need for all of us to not stop questioning; to believe there is something more than---We can only live the stories we're given.  It's about courage, hope and love in all its many forms.  It's about the strength of belief and making magic whenever we can, as often as we can.  The dust jacket illustration by artist Gilbert Ford extends from the front back over the spine to the left, showing the expanse of the mountain range, the monsters, woods and homes.  Careful readers will notice the addition of a roaring fire in the lower, left-hand corner.  On the book case Mallie and the winged horse are embossed on the front in the lower, right-hand corner of a lavender color.  The spine is yellow with the text in blue.  On the opening and closing endpapers readers see words, wish, shine, love, dream, gallop, sparkle, soar, and hope, in white and light blue on blue.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional book collections.

To learn more about Natalie Lloyd and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Natalie has an older blog here.  It's full of her earlier writing and musings.  Natalie Lloyd has accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  The cover reveal by teacher librarian Matthew Winner is here.  At the publisher's website you can read an excerpt and listen to about six minutes of the audio book.  Enjoy the preview.

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