Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Every spring the Red River would crest stretching its murky water over the school's football field where I worked in North Dakota. Many of the students lived on farms and dealt with yearly floods. I just read the picture book, "Blizzard," by John Rocco to 4th graders and told stories about surviving seven blizzards one winter followed by the North Dakota flood of 1997. This story is about a family that travels to North Dakota to help their Aunt Frankie fight the Red River from flooding her farmstead. Patricia MacLachlan brought back many memories of the prairie and rising river. Her word choices create a rhythm and beauty that lulled me into the quiet start only to end with some big drama. Likewise, the protagonist Lucy, creates melodies with words; poetry to be exact, but she can't carry a tune in a musical family. Even though this intermediate reader has 100 pages, it would be a good read aloud as it carries much emotion and depth in a solid setting.

Lucy is traveling in an old Volkswagon van to her aunt's farm with her parents, two-year-old brother, and six-year-old sister to North Dakota. Her dad loves cows and opera while her mother loves musician Langhorne Slim. Her sister can sing in a "high perfect voice" and her selective mute brother can sing perfectly in tune. It's their secret. No one knows that he can hum in tune. They think he's mute. "Teddy has music but no words." She explains. "I have words but no music. We are a strange pair." When Teddy sees a cow for the first time he speaks to the amazement of his family. As the trip continues, he starts to say more aloud.

Some factors in selective mutism are anxiety by being overwhelmed in an unfamiliar situation or trouble processing sensory information. We see this at our school quite a bit and it is usually temporary. Teddy suffers from the same issues but will "talk," so-to-speak with Lucy. He says her name, "See" and sings to her a song every night using "la" or "ba." When Lucy tells the adults he can speak, he refuses to show them. At first annoyed, Lucy later likes their secret. It is like their secret language and makes her feel special. She obviously adores Teddy and looks out for him, perhaps more than the average sibling. When Teddy does start to talk he turns the tables on Lucy and forces her to sing. The message of facing your fears and having the courage to be bad at something makes for good discussions.

The subplot about writing and the fear of rejection is subtle, but apparent in Lucy's character arc. She might hate singing but Lucy loves to write poetry; however, she is afraid her family will criticize it and she's reluctant to share it with them. She keeps a journal and uses poetry to sort through her feelings about her Aunt's farm. Writing is hard, "I stare at the blank lined page. I feel the same way about a blank page that my Mama feels about her old home in North Dakota. I love it because it is fresh and clean. I hate it because I have to fill it." Lucy's mom doesn't like to go back to her family farm and Lucy tries to figure out why as the story progresses.

The beautiful descriptions McLachlan uses for emotions or places or things lifts the words off these pages making memorable images. She takes small moments and stretches them into tender, emotional ones; whether Teddy is slipping a hand into his big sister Lucy's or Aunt Frankie is talking about the beautiful singing she heard through the vent at night in her room below. Lucy describes the water slowly turning the farm into an island. When she looks at the cow it is her eyes that capture Lucy's attention, "Her eyes are so big I can see my own reflection there, looking tiny next to this huge cow." The author reminds me to slow down and look at the details in each day. A good addition to your library.

4 Smileys

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