Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson

Miracles on Maple Hill
by Virginia Sorenson
illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
middle grade fiction 1956
library book
finished 4/6/14

If asked what is my favorite kind of fiction the answer would be a book that shows the healing powers of place, particularly the natural world, and Miracles on Maple Hill certainly does this. Ten-year-old Marly’s father has post-traumatic stress disorder- before it had a name- in the years after the Second World War. He jumps at the slightest noise, he strikes out verbally at his family, isn’t able to work, and is constantly tired. His wife has an idea for the whole family to travel from their home in Pittsburg to a rural area of Pennsylvania, where she used to spend summers with her grandmother. Marly has always been smitten with the stories her mother told her of those days, and she feels that it will be just what her father needs. The plan is that he will stay on after their visit and fix the place up, while they come weekends, and then stay the whole summer. As you will probably guess, working on the house, gardening, and sugaring help the man find peace and joy in living again. 

There are neighbors Mr. Chris and his wife Chrissy who are great friends to the whole family. Mr. Chris, sensing a kindred spirit, teaches Marly about all the ‘miracles’ that happen up on Maple Hill, beginning with the maple sugaring season. He says,
“Can you smell that, Marly? Did you get that whiff just then from the sugarhouse? I told my wife this morning, this time Lee’s [Marly’s mother] coming for the first breath of spring.”
She had got it. It was absolute sweetness, like a drift of a scent from a lilac bush. Like passing an orchard in full bloom. But different. A different sweetness -“Your great-grandmother used to say there was all outdoors in that smell,” Mr. Chris said. “She called it the first miracle when the sap came up.”
He brings her out to the woods when the spring flowers come along. I learned about a plant I have in my own yard that I’ve written about in my letters, bloodroot. 


I’ve never taken a picture of it in bud, which Mr. Chris calls, “Easter candles.” 
All over the ground around her were great green leaves, each with a cleft in the side. Up through each cleft came a long thin stem, and on top of each stem stood a pointed bud exactly like a candle flame. 
And the reason it is called bloodroot:
It had a scarlet root, as bright as blood. … it’s absolutely true that if anybody eats it, his heart will stop in a day.
He goes on to tell her about hepaticas. 
Folks thought, Mr. Chris said, that hepatica leaves were good for liver medicine because the leaves were the shape of livers. “So it’s even called ‘liverwort,’ sometimes,” … it’s got more names than you can shake a stick at. Some say it’s a ‘herb-trinity’ because of the three leaves. Some call it a ‘squirrel cup.’ And some call it a ‘mouse-ear.’ Take your choice.” 
Marly’s mother remembers “Grandma saying you couldn’t bring things out of the ground until they were ready.” But Marly learns from Mr. Chris that you can ‘help’ them come along by pulling off the leaf covering. 
The flowers had to push their stems up through layers and layers of old brown leaves, and sometimes one of the leaves was extra tough and wouldn’t move off, so the poor flowers were stuck together and coudn’t open. The minute Marly broke off the tight old leaves, the flowers opened right away. … Mr. Chris made her feel as if every flower was a particular old friend. It was grand to see his face when he noticed something for the first time that year.
Marly has a brother two years older, and the book shows the 1950s idea that boys were the adventurers and girls were scared of the unknown. He goes off on his own, and she feels badly. Mr. Chris opens up a world that becomes rather hers alone, a separate one from her brother’s, which builds her self-esteem. And he comes to admire her, as well.

As summer draws to a close, Marly is filled with regret that she won’t see the fall, which may just be the most beautiful time of year on Maple Hill. There are decisions to be made, and each family member has a voice in them. Young readers will wonder what will happen, and worry when Mr. Chris gets sick. They will be interested in a 'hermit' who lives nearby. So, the book is a beautiful mix of information and appealing story.

Miracles on Maple Hill received the Newbury Medal in 1957. It is a wonderful book that doesn’t speak down to children and makes them feel included in the written conversations. I’ve read this a couple times over the years, and love it more with each reading. And I’ve now bought copies to share with my grandchildren as they get older.

15 comments:

  1. Your grandchildren are going to be the most well-read kids ever! I love that you are already building their library. Wonderful. I would read this book myself because I almost always love books with a strong sense of place. I know, that seems odd for someone who chose to travel full time for all those years ... but we've always been aware that some places speak to us. And reading books -- and blogs -- about people who are strongly connected to a place lets me live another life from the one we chose!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't resist! Bought them both a book called Nest today. It is wonderful. I think you'd like the Miracles book. Very well-written, and most interesting for an adult as well.

      Delete
  2. You make the books your read sound interesting. I think your blog is one of the reasons that lately I've been inspired to read more recently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. what a very nice thing to say. I've felt my book posts to be not so good lately since my heart and mind are quite preoccupied with a certain granddaughter, and with anticipation for a grandson. Thanks so much for saying this.

      Delete
  3. This sounds a wonderful book, just the kind I like to read as well! I will go and look for it on Amazon now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It will give a good sense of rural America, even now. Sugaring is still big in our neck of the woods.

      Delete
  4. I love the sound of this book and will add it to my list. Any story that includes hepaticas and bloodroot must be a joy. They are increasingly rare and it's sad that so many children - and adults - have never even heard of them. Thanks for the review and photo of the lovely bloodroots!
    Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want to try and 'catch' my bloodroot in bud this year. I love the idea of these Easter candles, though I doubt we'll see them on our Easter day. Had snow last night. :<))

      Delete
  5. Wonderful post. I really enjoyed it and will seek out the book to read. Thank you. In return, you might like 'The Herb of Grace' by Elizabeth Goudge. The picture of the liverwort is lovely too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I've read a couple by her, and keep meaning to get back to her work. I'll look for The Herb of Grace. I'm quite sure you will like Miracles on Maple Hill.

      Delete
  6. Your Grand daughter looks beautiful, she will blossom like our Grand daughter has, she weighed 1 pound 1/2 at birth stayed almost 4 months in hospital and now she is 2 and 1/2 years old sharp as a tac and bosses her 5 year old brother around. She is our miracle also.

    All the best to your family.

    Annie v.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you so much for writing. It brings tears to my eyes. We families of preemies share a very special bond.

      Delete
  7. I love books about the rural landscape of America (Louise Erdrich, Annie Proulx, Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett etc) This sounds great.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would say this is more like SOJ than the others. Really wonderful book. It could have taken place in NH or VT.

      Delete
  8. What a lovely review of this book. I haven't thought of this book in a long time, but I loved it when I read it as a youngster! The exciting thing, though, is that my 7th/8th grade English teacher (wonderful writing teacher!!), was her sister! So this book had very special meaning for me. You've inspired me to re-read it!

    ReplyDelete

Now that I am a grandmother, it seems that I am often late in replying to your most-appreciated comments. But I read them as soon as they come in, and I will write as soon as I can. Please do come back and check. I love these blogging conversations. A little addendum - I've just spent quite a long time catching up with dear notes you left me months ago!! I do hope you can get back to read them. And I'm trying to be much more prompt now!

Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.