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Book Review of Miracles on Maple Hill

Miracles on Maple Hill
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Helpful Score: 7

ISBN 0590431455 - This Newbery Award Winner managed to pull off one of the most difficult things in kids' books - possibly in any genre. It is almost completely timeless. Ignoring the copyright date, there is almost nothing in it that sets it in a particular timeframe. Because the setting is nature and a back-to-the-land ideal, the story could be set after almost any war - and because we're in a war right now, it could easily be set in the present. Sorensen mentions "the war" without ever mentioning Hitler, Germany or WWII. The only "give away" is when Joe refers to 4 dollars as a lot of money - but even that, since Joe's a kid, doesn't do any harm to the timelessness of Miracles.

Marly's father is back from the war. A former POW, Dale is suffering from mood swings and depression and seems to be tired all the time. Lee, Marly's mother, worries a lot. She also talks a lot about Maple Hill, where she spent her summers as a child. They still own a house there and, as the story begins, the family is on the way there. Lee has been in touch with the neighbors, the Chris family, who have opened the house and done what they could to make it welcoming. The plan is for Dale to remain behind while Lee shuttles the kids, Marly and her brother Joe, back and forth, visiting Maple Hill on weekends. They will spend the whole summer there, as well. Hopefully this will help Dale, who isn't very social, to recover from the horrors of the war.

The house is run down and overrun with mice when they arrive and the family sets about restoring order. Mr. Chris and his wife, Chrissie, are good neighbors and good friends - as much to the kids as to the parents. They've arrived during sugaring season and right away get to see how maple sap becomes syrup, with Mr. Chris teaching them. Mr. Chris teaches Joe and Marly much about the beauty of the country around them. Marly has, from the start, hoped for miracles here, mostly of the sort that will heal her family, and Mr. Chris reinforces that hope by promising her a miracle a week. He shows her the beauty of each season, in the little things. The kids also meet Harry, something of a recluse, who smells like the goats he keeps, and they learn a lot from him as well.

Eventually, the family decides to stay at Maple Hill together, with the book ending a year later, during sugaring season. This time, however, rather than being the somewhat lost newcomers, relying on others to teach them about everything new to them here, they find themselves in a position to repay some of what they've been given by their new friends. Harry is injured and alone, with no place to stay and, worst of all, Mr. Chris is in the hospital with heart problems just as the greatest sugaring year in the history of Pennsylvania begins. His entire crop is at risk just when he and his family are faced with medical bills. Marly, Joe, Lee and Dale have to help him! It's a lot of work - has the family healed enough to work together and get the job done? Can they really do this, for the neighbors who have been so kind to them?

A wonderful story of healing, caring and helping each other and so much beautifully described detail about the plants and animals they encounter! Dale's speech near the end, about men in the POW camp who were either willing to help each other or who were only worried about themselves, neatly tied together his experience in the war with their year on Maple Hill and showed how far he had come. I recommend this book for just about everyone - adults can appreciate it as much as, if not more than, kids.

- AnnaLovesBooks