Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Love, Ruby Lavender: A Fabulous Middle Grade Read Aloud

Love, Ruby Lavender

Written By: Deborah Wiles
Recommended Ages: 8-12

I somehow missed Love, Ruby Lavender when it was first published in 2001, but I'm pleased to have discovered it nine years later. It's a delightful story that begs to be read aloud by a parent or a teacher, or heard on an audiotape. Its humorous, engaging style will appeal to boys and girls alike.

Ruby is a nine-year-old girl who lives with her mom and her grandmother-Miss Eula-in Halleluia, Mississippi ("Population: 400 good friendly folks and a few old soreheads"). Ruby and Miss Eula are very close to each other, especially since the accident that took her grandpa's life last summer. The book opens up with a hilarious rescue scene of three old hens from Peterson's Egg Ranch, concocted by Ruby and Miss Eula. These hens (Ivy, Bemmie and Bess) play a big part throughout the book, and Ruby's love for them is quite touching, as she watches over them fiercely and reads to them from the dictionary.

When Miss Eula announces that she is going to Hawaii to visit her son and daughter-in-law and new baby, Ruby is visibly distressed. The letters back and forth between Ruby and Miss Eula are priceless and do a fantastic job of showcasing their voices. Wiley has really nailed these two characters down, and it's a true pleasure to read their letters to each other.

Despite being stuck in boring Halleluia, Mississippi for the summer (without her grandmother), a lot seems to happen in Ruby's life. She meets the new teacher and his wife--Mr. Ishee and Tot, who move to Halleluia, and have their nine-year-old niece Dove visiting them for the summer. There's Ruby's nemesis, Melba Jane, who lost her dad in the same accident that took Ruby's grandpa's life. Their relationship with each other is not easy, and there's a mystery about the accident that casts a long shadow over both girls. Yet each of them experiences tremendous growth throughout the book, which is handled in an understated way. And finally, there are those chickens that pop up at different times throughout the story.

Love, Ruby Lavender is full of silly moments, quirky characters, and great depth, too. Kids will like Ruby's feistiness, independence and big heart as she learns how to navigate the summer without her beloved grandmother. Like Ruby, they will see that "life goes on." It's a quick read that manages to stay with you after you turn the last page.

BookNosher Tidbit: Love, Ruby Lavender has won the following awards (taken from Deborah Wiles's website):
  • An American Library Association Notable Book for Children
  • An NCTE Notable Book in the Language Arts
  • A Booksense '76 Pick
  • A Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book for Children
  • One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing, New York Public Library
  • Children's Literature Choice List
  • Parent's Guide Children's Media Award
    Nominated for SEBA's best children's book of the year
  • Nominated for a total of 26 state book awards including the Vermont Student book award, the Rhode Island Student book award, the North Carolina Children's Book Award, the Massachusetts Children's Book Award, the New Hampshire "Great Stoneface" Children's Book Award, the Utah Children's Book Award, the Kansas William Allen White Children's Book Award, the Oklahoma Sequoyah Children's Book Award, the Illinois Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, the Indiana Young Hoosiers Book Award List, the Connecticut Nutmeg Children’s Book Award, the Virginia Young Readers Program, Minnesota Maud Hart Lovelace Book Award, the Tennessee Volunteer State reading list, and the California Young Reader Medal.

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