Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood is a middle grade novel about a year in the life of a ten year old girl who is adjusting to her family's move from North Carolina to upstate New York, where her mother grew up. Prairie's first person tale begins on New Year's Eve, when she learns that her beloved Grammy has decided to move back to North Carolina. Lonely, Prairie decides to start raising chickens (and one rooster, it turns out).
When fall comes, Prairie, who was previously homeschooled by Grammy, is sent to school for the first time. Prairie's dark skin (she is part Cherokee Indian), southern accent, and thirst for knowledge all mark her as different, and she finds herself at the bottom of the school's pecking order. But she soon learns that having just one friend can make all the difference in the world.
What made Prairie Evers work for me was the delight that is Prairie's voice, with its combination of down-home Southern accent and occasional advanced vocabulary. Here are a couple of examples, but honestly, the whole book is like this:
"Then I ducked my head and hoped the Lord would not strike me down. Mama's folks had perished in a car accident, and it was very tragic. I knew that the way you know something in your head, but I always felt guilty I didn't feel it more in my heart. But the thing was, I never really knew them." (Page 3)
"You could have knocked me over with the smallest, downiest chicken feather. I could not imagine a worse idea. Mrs. Perkins's kids back home went to school and they'd told me plenty about it. In school you were trapped inside all day, and you had to sit still in a chair, and you had to learn by memorizing textbooks instead of reading all the interesting books Grammy used with me." (Page 62)
"I scowled with my whole entire self." (Page 64)
I love fish out of water stories, and I found Prairie's social struggles in school to be realistic. Besides her one friend, there's no magic bullet that results in her suddenly being accepted (though bringing a rooster to school turns out to be a step in the right direction). I also like the way Prairie Evers highlights advantages and disadvantages of both homeschooling AND traditional schooling, without judgement one way or the other.
There's also a wonderful bit later in the book in which Prairie comes to understand that although she loves her friend Ivy, the two girls think differently about things, and have different strengths. Prairie Evers is a book that quietly shows kids (without preaching) that it's ok for people to be different, and that kindness will often be noticed and appreciated.
None of the other characters, including Ivy, are as fully fleshed out as Prairie (though some of the chickens are pretty interesting). But Airgood does tackle other issues besides Prairie's missing Grammy and adjusting to school. There's Prairie's mother's re-introduction to a judgmental community, after a wild youth, as well as Ivy's unhappy home life. Prairie's parents' financial struggles are also treated openly (they live by making crafts and selling them at local farmer's markets). But it's still clear, despite not having a lot of money, that Prairie and her parents consider themselves pretty lucky.
All in all, Prairie Evers is a breath of fresh, country air. It reminds me a bit of Linda Urban's Hound Dog True, and a bit of Jill Alexander's The Sweetheart of Prosper County. But really, Prairie is entirely herself, unique and likeable and sure to be appreciate by any 8-12 year old (particularly girls). Recommended, particularly for elementary school library purchase.
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books (@PenguinKids)
Publication Date: May 24, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the author
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