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Newbery Medal winners and honorees are always so good. We seek them out often enough to abbreviate them as Newbs. When I checked Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest out, the librarian talked about her kids’ favorite books. I thought we were talking books, but we weren’t. She was struck with a bad case of presuming-I’m-a-parent-itus. Nope. For a second I felt like a weirdo fraud for being in the kids’ section without a kid. I read kids’ books for pleasure. Take that, friendly librarian.

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Moon Over Manifest, 2011 Newb winner, was worth the moment of mild awkwardness at the library. This is the kind of book that pokes your heart. The story is about 12-year-old Abilene Tucker and the summer she spends in her dad’s hometown of Manifest, Kansas, a town of many Eastern and Western European immigrants. Set in 1936 and 1918, in that order, the story follows lonely Abilene as she tries to reconnect with her dad by learning about Manifest as it was in 1918, when he lived there.

Abilene enjoyed nomadic life with her dad, Gideon. She’s still not sure why she couldn’t accompany him to his railroad job like usual. He wanted her to go to Manifest and live with Pastor Shady for the summer so she did. The town’s not what she expected based on her daddy’s stories, but he’ll be back for her at the end of summer, sure thing.

Memories were like sunshine. They warmed you up and left a pleasant glow, but you couldn’t hold them.

In Shady’s former Baptist church-turned-speakeasy/home, she finds a cigar box of trinkets, letters from 1918, and a hand-drawn map of the town.The letters are between Ned, a soldier fighting in France, and Jinx, the friend he left behind. In addition to reading the letters, Abilene learns about the town’s rich history through local newspaper columns published during 1918 and by listening to the stories of a Hungarian “diviner” named Miss Sadie.

From losing young men to the war and growing tensions between immigrant communities, to the Spanish Flu, Ku Klux Klan and something about a spy, Abilene and her two friends get to know Manifest in a way many of the older residents seem to have forgotten. And how can they resist trying to find out who the spy was? The girls get themselves into some genuine mischief, looking for clues to the past and finding them everywhere.

I adore the warm woven texture of Vanderpool’s writing. Her storytelling style is perfect for children’s historical fiction.

And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you’ll enjoy a gingersnap, you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite.

Reading this got me thinking of my dad and older relatives, none of whom ever talk about their past. Ever. Letters were never saved. Photo albums disappeared in moves. And they don’t understand the curiosity. As if wanting to know more about the people who gave you life and attempted to shape that warm, needy lump of flesh into a good person is a bad thing. Parents. Today my sisters photograph and document every breath of their kids’ lives. When our present becomes the past there will be few mysteries.

My dad is a closed book until one of his grandchildren or some friend is in the room. Then out comes a story my sisters and I never heard before. Where do these stories come from? We call it the far side of the Dad. Similar to the far side of the moon, any glimpse is a rare gift.

I love the side I get to see, but can’t help wondering if there are really alien bases over there. At least with Moon we have satellites to photograph the mysterious dark side. How beautiful.

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