Little Willow (slayground) wrote,
Little Willow
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The Maggie Valley Trilogy by Kerry Madden

In GENTLE'S HOLLER, Kerry Madden introduces young readers to Olivia (better known as Livy Two) Weems, a twelve-year-old with a passion for books and music. Livy has eight siblings of various ages and temperaments, a sweet mama, and a starry-eyed daddy. Money's tight - Daddy's music fills the heart and ears more than it fills the pocketbook - but the Weems make do, and their household is always bursting with family, love, and music. Livy Two also sings and plays music, often writing songs about the struggles her family has faced and the hardships they've overcome. The story is set in 1960s North Carolina, a beautiful backdrop for this artistic and energetic family.

As the tale progresses, Livy Two watches carefully over Gentle, the next-to-youngest child in the family, who has always had difficulty with her eyes. Meanwhile, the eldest son, Emmett, looks beyond the holler and fixes his eyes on Ghost Town in the Sky, a new place on the top of a mountain where he might be able to get a job. Livy Two's trips to the lending library truck connect her with another kind soul, Miss Attickson, who encourages Livy's voracious appetite for novels and poetry.

LOUISIANA'S SONG, the second book in the trilogy, is just as precious as the first. The narrator is once again the lovable Livy Two, who learns how her quiet sister Louise came to be named after a state. She encourages Louise to share her paintings with others, all the while working hard on her own songs and helping out at the bookmobile. As the family feels the effects of the events from the previous book, Livy Two is surprised by the strength of her siblings - and of herself.

LOUISIANA'S SONG is a worthy sequel to GENTLE'S HOLLER, and, unlike many middle books in trilogies, can stand on its own two feet. When Louise learns to do the same, Livy Two will cheer her on, and so will readers. SONG is on my Best Books of 2007 list, under the category of Juvenile Fiction.

JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN, the final book in the trilogy, is named after the mother of the family. In a rare act of tenderness, Grandma Horace gives Livy Two the diary her mom wrote when she was about Livy's age. The journal entries and sketches give Livy new insight into her mom. Though she keeps it to herself at first, she ends up reading passages to her brothers and sisters.

The story also takes Livy Two and Jitters on a journey to Nashville, because Livy is dead-set on auditioning for a music man named Mr. George Flowers. It's an expensive trip in more ways than one, and the fallout follows Livy for the rest of the book. ("It's as if I left Maggie Valley a little girl and came back home grown up. Even Mama and Daddy look older to me, like the worry of the last few days aged them all at once.")

Music, as always, brings the family together and will bring smiles to readers' faces. A satisfying conclusion to a trilogy that's as sweet as a slice of homemade pie.

This trilogy will be loved by kids and families who enjoyed the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor, Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. I can see Caroline Penderwick and Gentle Weems becoming fast friends and sharing fairy wings.

If you need help visualizing and distinguishing between the Weems children, just use this beautiful passage from JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN:

Gentle knows all of our individual walks and sounds. She knows Emmett by his whistling and harmonica, and Becksie smacks her lips, dabbing vanilla spice behind her ears as lady's perfume. She knows I [Livy Two] drag my feet sometimes, and Jitters drops things, and Louise stirs up jars of paint and pops her knuckles when she gets nervous. Gentle also hears Caroline's fairy wings rustle, and Cyrus never walks when he can run.

Read my interview with author Kerry Madden.
Tags: books, cybils, reviews
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