Monday, May 9, 2011

Miss Maggie by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant does it again with her book Miss Maggie.  Miss Maggie is an old lady living in an old log house close to the property of Nat, on the edge of  Crawford Pasture.  Nat's grandmother would send Nat over to deliver a jug of buttermilk or a kettle of beans to Miss Maggie.  Nat would try to get a glimpse inside Miss Maggie's house by peeking in the window.  He wanted to see the old black snake that people spoke about which hung from the rafters of Miss Maggie's house.  The snake was said to eat the mice that came inside.  Nat would usually kick the bottom of the old screen door to get Miss Maggie's attention.  Miss Maggie would always come to the door to accept her delivery. 

One day Nat looked over the snow covered field that lay between his home and Miss Maggie's and realized that her chimney wasn't smoking.  Although his feet didn't want to go, his heart told him to see if she was okay.  He kicked the door as he usually did but didn't get a response.  He let himself in her house only to see that she was sitting on the cold floor.  Nat walked up to her and called her name.  She did not responed.  He did it again, this time bending down and Miss Maggie turned to him and handed him a cloth.  She responded, "Henry."  Nat corrected her and said, "It's Nat, not Henry."  Then he realized that whatever was in the cloth must be named Henry.  He thought of the snake.  But, when he unwrapped it he discovered a dead bird.  Poor Miss Maggie, thought Nat.  Nat ended up taking Miss Maggie back to his home so that his parents could tend to her.

From that day one Nat and Miss Maggie became close.  She always saved her coffee cans for him to collect bugs and such, and he even decorated one for her (so that she had a proper place to spit her tobacco).

The illustrator, Thomas DiGrazia, captures the sadness of the story by using black and white and giving the idea of a dream (because the illustrations a kinda fussy).  However, this provided just enough imagination to change your mind about the relationship between the two.  The illustrations appeared to be charcoal and blotted out.

What a perfect book for children to learn empathy.  This is one of the character traits that is so difficult to teach children, and books with these lessons make it much more enjoyable to learn rather than listening to adults give a lecture.

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