Thursday, April 10, 2008

Virginia Sorensen

Miracles on Maple Hill
by Virginia Sorensen
Recommended Age: 10+

The winner of the 1957 Newbery Medal is a warmhearted family story full of the miracles of nature in a woodsy, rural Pennsylvania setting. Marly and Joe’s father has come home from a P.O.W. camp a changed man. Thin, tired, brittle-tempered, and sad, it seems too much to hope that they will really have back the father they thought they had lost.

Then their mother remembers her grandmother’s farm in the corner of Pennsylvania, where the maple sap flows and the flowers bloom and there is “all outdoors” to give a man a sense of peace. So, a weekend at a time at first, the family gets away from the noise and bustle of Pittsburgh and goes up to the old farm on Maple Hill.

All except the father, who stays there full-time, because one of the first miracles is how quickly he finds that he does better there. Working on the house and garden, helping their neighbor Mr. Chris collect maple sap and turn it into syrup, hunting and breathing the fresh air and the sense of peace, he becomes attached to the place. And once again, his family becomes attached to him.

But there are other miracles yet to come, as Marly and Joe experience a whole year’s round of delights and challenges: the change of seasons, a change of schools, work and play and wild animals and strange new friends, exploring the woods and toiling in the “sugarbush.” And when Mr. Chris takes ill at a critical time in the sugar-making season, one more miracle brings together lots of people to help make the “first run” a success.

Unlike some Newbery winners, this is not a gripping adventure; but it is a beautiful evocation of nature, childhood, the challenges and joys of family life and farm work. A peaceful, lovely story dominated by a sweet little girl named Marly, this book is not so much a great story as a good friend.

EDIT: According to Wikipedia, Ms. Sorenson (1912-1991) wrote mostly on Mormon themes, once lived in dear old Terre Haute, Indiana (something we have in common), and also happened to be Evelyn Waugh's sister-in-law. Here is an LDS evaluation of this "important Latter-day Saint novelist." Don't let it stop you from enjoying this book, however.

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