If your child is ready for a chapter book, you should consider Missing May. While this children’s book is not a picture book like others I have recommended in this column, it is a remarkable experience in life and relationships. Unlike those books that are easily read by young children, this book is appropriate for thoughtful children who are 10 or older. If you will have family time together whether making a road trip or having a relaxing day, this is an excellent book to read together.
“When May died” hardly seems like an auspicious beginning for a children’s book. Yet Cynthia Rylant mixes quirky characters, human struggle, and gentle compassion all toward a hopeful conclusion. Any book with Uncle Ob, Summer, and Cletus as the lead characters is likely to have personality. And the book throws in whirligigs as a bonus.
The would-be reader should be alerted that the book is not a comedy even though it is lighthearted. The book is not explicitly religious even though it encourages faith in the process of discovery.
Summer was orphaned at six and turned over to her elderly West Virginia aunt and uncle, Ob and May. Summer was twelve years old when her Aunt May died. Summer suffered real grief but it was Uncle Ob whose life was sidetracked by the loss of his beloved companion. Yet they sensed that May’s presence lingered near and set out to contact her. Uncle Ob, Summer, and friend Cletus, one of Summer’s classmates, left the dilapidated trailer to journey in search of healing.
Even an effort to re-connect with May through a spiritualist ultimately points the sojourners toward faith—that lingering sense (or conviction) that what we see with our eyes is not the whole story. Though classed as a children’s book, Nancy and I read it to each other as we made a road trip. We came to love the characters. When the book ended, we pulled to the side of the road and wept, not as much out of sadness as because we had been touched and enriched by Summer, Cletus, Ob, and May.
Missing May (1992) by Cynthia Rylant. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers. (89 pages, 12 chapters, Newbery Award Winner)