Prather’s Pick: ‘What the Moon Said’ is an intriguing book for youth

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Esther, the almost-10-year-old leading character in this week’s featured book, wants to be accepted by her mother. Ma, a superstitious woman, seems to push Esther away when the girl wants a hug, even though she hugs the other siblings in the family. So Esther vows to do whatever it takes to get her mother’s approval.

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Diane Prather

“What the Moon Said” was written by Gayle Rosengren and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. The book is shelved with the new adult books at the Moffat County Library. The “J” on the spine of the book designates it for “juvenile” readers, possibly middle school age.

The book is set in Chicago in 1930, during a time when things were getting tough for people in the United States. The Vogel family struggles, but Pa has a job at a laundry, the family has a comfortable apartment, there’s plenty to eat and Esther and her 12-year-old sister Violet even get to go to the matinee at the movie theater most Saturdays where Esther enjoys watching Rin Tin Tin.

So that’s where the girls are headed when the book opens. Esther has to remind Violet to be extra careful because Ma saw a ring around the moon last night, and she said it’s a sign that something bad is going to happen.

After the movie, the girls stop by the laundry, hoping that Pa will give them some money for ice cream. That’s when they hear Mr. Zeigler, the owner of the laundry, and Pa talking. Pa is being let go in two weeks.

After a few days, Pa announces that he and Ma have come to a decision. Instead of spending their savings for a house, as they had planned, they are going to buy a farm. After all, Pa was a farmer before he came to the United States from Germany.

So Pa, Ma, Esther, Violet and young brother Walter pack up for the farm. Two older sisters, Kate and Julia, stay in Chicago since Kate is married and Julia has a job. They are important characters in the story because Esther writes to them, especially Julia.

The farm is not what the Vogel family expected. The fields are bare, the barn is old and faded, the outbuildings are in poor shape and the house is a small, gray building without electricity — meaning no icebox, no radio and no bathroom.

However, they do have two workhorses, four black and white cows, some hens, geese and pigs. And there’s a dog, too, named Mickey. Esther always has wanted a dog.

The family settles in. Esther tries hard to please her mother, but she still craves a hug. When Esther makes a new friend, Ma’s superstitions get in the way of the friendship. At first, the family gets by, but then conditions get tough. The crops don’t do as well as Pa expected. The food supply grows short. There are plenty of challenges for the Vogels.

The reader may find the ending of this book somewhat surprising, and along the way, Esther finds out something about love. “What the Moon Said” costs $16.99 in hardcover, or you can find it at the Moffat County Library.

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