Happy MMGM, guys!
We're reviewing A Tiny Piece of Sky this week, which comes out in January from Penguin/Philomel.
I think it's a great MMGM about the homefront during WWII, but also a great reminder on how we should view and apply certain aspects of history to today.
MMGM is a feature hosted by the fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: January 19th 2016 by Philomel Books
World War II is coming in Europe. At least that’s what Frankie Baum heard on the radio. But from her small town in Maryland, in the wilting summer heat of 1939, the war is a world away.
Besides, there are too many other things to think about: first that Frankie’s father up and bought a restaurant without telling anyone and now she has to help in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and washing dishes, when she’d rather be racing to Wexler’s Five and Dime on her skates. Plus her favorite sister, Joanie Baloney, is away for the summer and hasn’t been answering any of Frankie’s letters.
But when some people in town start accusing her father of being a German spy, all of a sudden the war arrives at Frankie’s feet and she can think of nothing else.
Could the rumors be true? Frankie has to do some spying of her own to try to figure out her father’s secrets and clear his good name. What she discovers about him surprises everyone, but is nothing compared to what she discovers about the world.
In a heartfelt, charming, and insightful novel that is based on true events, Shawn K. Stout weaves a story about family secrets, intolerance, and coming of age that will keep readers guessing until the end.
Stout introduces us to Frankie Baum, a young girl who is looking forward to spending the summer doing fun things – especially now that her favorite sister has gone away for the summer.
However, things change when her father buys a restaurant. Frankie is now working in the kitchen, and things become only even more complicated, when her father is suspected of being a Germany spy.
What’s remarkable about A Tiny Piece of Sky is Stout’s two-pronged approach to Frankie’s journey. Frankie’s expectations at the start of A Tiny Piece of Sky are typical for a young American tween. She’s looking forward to simple pleasures – e.g. hanging out with friends; enjoying the summer though her sister isn’t home, and more.
So it makes it all the more heartbreaking, when Frankie begins to realize that lines are being drawn in the sand, largely because of what her father is suspected to be. It’s never overt, but the subtle accusations of serving German food at the restaurant, to an eventual boycott of said restaurant, shows how doubt can quickly creep into a young girl’s mind.
Stout is especially adept at showing Frankie’s struggles between what she has known to be true, verses what she now sees. She's always known her father to be honorable and independent-minded - as evidenced by his decision to not concede to Mr. Price's intimidations - but struggles with the idea that her father may also have secrets that she's not privy to learning.
While Stout places all of this within the context of Frankie's efforts to discover the truth about her father, it's also a reminder of the general challenges of growing up and discovering your identity, especially when it's challenged by so many. It's a poignant reminder on recognizing that your behavior may have long-lasting impacts beyond one's self. This is a lesson that both Frankie and several secondary characters learn the hard way, especially as the rumor mongering about Frankie's father continues.
Though Stout ends the book on a slightly surprising note, it’s an ending that can also be optimistically viewed. It’s a reminder that it is never futile to take a stand against "bad behavior", and there will be those who will see through discrimination and stand by one's side. It's a relevant lesson on so many levels, and I suspect that readers of all ages will agree.
Of special note: I generally hesitate to bring politics into a book review. However, I think that several of the themes in A Tiny Piece of Sky have strong applicability to what we’re seeing in our current political landscape.
While I’m definitely not an education expert, I do think that Stout’s book is one that I would personally give to a young reader, who may be trying to understand what they’re seeing in the news – especially when it comes to some of the stronger sentiments being expressed. Frankie's observations open up a lot of room for discussion, especially when it comes to her family's conduct in the wake of such accusations.
About the author:
Shawn K. Stout (www.shawnkstout.com) grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland, the same town where A Tiny Piece of Sky takes place, but she did her growing up more than forty years after the events in this story occur. When she was a kid, she spent a great deal of time making up stories and gazing up at the sky, often doing both at the same time.
She still makes up stories, although she admits she doesn’t get to do as much sky-gazing as she’d like. She is the author of the Not-So-Ordinary Girl series and the Penelope Crumb series and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Shawn K. Stout lives with her family in Maryland.