Abilene Tucker’s inherent need to understand her father, Gideon by glimpsing his past leads her down some unexpectedly adventurous paths of her own. Why did he send her to Manifest, Kansas? Is he coming back for her? Who are these people that are now a part of her life, and how do they connect with Gideon?
Abilene discovers so much more in her summer in Manifest than she ever imagined possible, helping a small town reconnect with a lost heritage and a grieving, self-proclaimed jinx realize his true home. Manifest and its citizens (American and foreign) have a colorful past, and the stories that Abilene uncovers opens up a suspenseful thread of stories that lead to a rising action and climax that will bring a reader to bouts of both laughter and tears.
APPROPRIATE TARGET AUDIENCE:
School Library Journal recommends Moon over Manifest for students in grades 5 through 8, while Amazon suggests that the reading age is appropriate for grades 3 through 7. Either way, this book transcends age limits, as I am generally only interested in YA and Adult Literature but was blown away by Vanderpool’s story line(s).
As far as the reading level is concerned, the book does have simple sentence structures and a lot of basic vocabulary, and even when newer, more advanced vocabulary is presented it is often eloquently defined by the narrator (including words such as perdition, manifest, etc.). Also, the main characters are younger, mischievous kids attempting to find a town spy (and unravelling much more than they bargained for) during their summer break–what better appeal to upper elementary and lower middle school students?
I would suggest that if recommending this novel to a younger audience (grades 3 through 5) that it should probably be a more advanced and potentially avid reader, as it is 346 pages long without the presence of pictures. I would also keep in mind that some parents of younger students may have an issue with the references to racism and alcoholism in the novel, although they are referenced rather impartially or slightly negatively.
Historical elements: references to many national events in history, including prohibition, World War I, the Ku Klux Klan, the Depression, presidents (in particular Woodrow Wilson) and more. These are all things that readers have or will learn about, and seeing them in a fun piece of fiction solidifies their significance in America’s history.
Character Development: Abilene becomes a mirror image of the young Jinx in her antics around Manifest, but she definitely changes from a naive little girl to a young woman that understands the importance of family and home. Through her adventures and time spent with Miss Sadie and Shady, we also uncover so much more about the other characters in Manifest, giving all of them much more depth and opening up more characters than most novels are capable of maintaining. This really helps the reader connect on a much deeper level to Manifest and the people, past and present that reside there.
Suspense with Parallel Plots: The novel bounces back and forth between Abilene’s encounters in the present day (of 1936 anyway) and Miss Sadie’s tales of the past (1918). These parallel plots keep the reader engaged and bound to the book, needing to know what will happen next in each version of Manifest (past and present), as well as constantly guessing how the storylines will cross paths.
Mature vocabulary and themes: the only thing that I think threw me off while reading Vanderpool’s novel was that some of the diction and themes seemed a bit more advanced than what the intended (or advertised) audience may be able to follow; however, that may lead itself to valuable lessons for the said audience in building vocabulary and maturity with potentially controversial themes.
In the classroom:
Character sketches: Since the novel is able to introduce and maintain so many dynamic characters throughout, it is an excellent way to engage literature students in discussions and or projects about characterization and development. You could assign (or have students draw from a hat) characters to individual students or pairs of students who must then come up with personality traits of their assigned character, quotes from the book that demonstrate those traits, as well as what they envision the character may look like, as Vanderpool relies more on the depth of a person rather than superficial traits, explaining the reasoning behind their sketches.
Researching America’s past: Since this is historical fiction, students could work in pairs/groups to research a part of America’s past presented in the novel. Topics could include (but are not limited to) any of the following: Woodrow Wilson, prohibition, the Depression, World War I, Kansas in the early 1900s, etc. The groups could present their findings to the class so that every student gains a better understanding of these events as they relate to the novel.
Out of the classroom:
Virtual Reality: A “field trip” through the Great Depression using Google Cardboard & Expeditions/VR technology so that students can experience the dust bowl and feel of the Great Depression as expressed in the book, further connecting to the characters. (Note: Use the link the access Google’s Expeditions and choose from hundreds of virtual field trips!)
Scavenger Hunt: Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne use letters written 18 years prior (from 1918) from an unknown sender to hunt for the Rattler, a supposed spy in Manifest. Something that would be fun to do with students is to take some of these elements and create a scavenger hunt for students that deal with some of the aspects of the book (whether that be historical or characteristics) to get them excited about reading historical fiction based on this time period.
- 2011 Newbery Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature
- Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile Fiction
- Kansas Notable Book
IF YOU LIKE MOON OVER MANIFEST, YOU WILL ALSO ENJOY:
- Vanderpool’s Navigating Early: If you enjoyed Vanderpool’s writing of threading multiple plots together and the style of themes presented in Moon Over Manifest, you may also enjoy her second installment to children’s literature, that deals with young Jack finding his way in a new setting, much like Miss Abilene. Jack also finds out who he is through the encounters and stories of others, discovering reconciliation that he did not even know he needed.
- Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: Yes, I know, this is a classic novel that most (if not all) have already encountered; however, much of the same issues in To Kill a Mockingbird are seen in Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest, including small-town life in the 1930s, as well as racial tensions, relevance of poverty and the depression, as well as the importance of community.
- Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer: Although the setting is much different in this novel than in Moon Over Manifest, both novels serve as strong examples of coming-of-age stories for young girls who feel abandoned at a young age and who must uncover family truths while also discovering what it means to be American. In One Crazy Summer, Delphine learns more about what it means to grow up under harsh circumstances. The novel provides depth in characters and tackles difficult issues, such as racism.