Our Only May Amelia
Our Only May Amelia
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Annotation: As the only girl in a Finnish-American family of seven brothers, May Amelia Jackson resents being expected to act like a lady while growing up in Washington state in 1899.
Catalog Number: #600281259
Format: Ebook
No other formats available
Special Formats: Ebook (Subscription, 26 uses) Ebook Downloadable Downloadable
Publisher: HarperCollins
Copyright Date: 2016
Edition Date: 2016
Pages: 272
Territory: North America
Availability: Special Order Only - Contact Customer Service at +1 800 637-6581 or +1 217 243-5451
ISBN: 0-06-203431-6
ISBN 13: 978-0-06-203431-1
Dewey: Fic
Language: English
ALA Booklist
May Amelia, age 12, lives with her stern Finnish father, pregnant mother, and seven brothers in the state of Washington in the late 1800s. She records the details of her life in a diary using the present tense and a folksy speech pattern: I go about fixing dinner real quiet-like so they can talk and tell secrets. Aside from quarrels with her adoptive brother Kaarlo, May lives a relatively bucolic life until the arrival of her shrewish grandmother, who finds fault with everything May says and does. The author bases her story on her aunt's real diary, so the everyday details of life among Finnish immigrants add a nice specificity to the background, and May is appealingly vivacious. However, the lack of quotation marks, the overuse of certain expressions (among them, indeed), the length, and sometimes slow pacing may make this a secondary purchase. (Reviewed September 1, 1999)
Horn Book
Twelve-year-old May Amelia Jackson describes life as the only girl among seven boys in her Finnish-American family. The voice of the colloquial first-person narrative rings true and provides a vivid picture of frontier and pioneer life in Washington State in 1899. An afterword discusses Holm's research into her own family's history and that of other Finnish immigrants.
Publishers Weekly
An unforgettable heroine intelligently narrates Holm's debut novel set in 1899 Washington State,"""" said PW in its Best Books of 1999 citation. Ages 9-up. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7On the Nasel River, Washington state, in 1899, 12-year-old May Amelia Jackson feels overwhelmed with her seemingly unlimited supply of brothers and manages to get herself in trouble with animal traps, bears, floods, and more. Everyone, especially her stern father, asks her why she is such a no-account girl and admonishes her to act like a Proper Young Lady. Her fondest wish comes true with the birth of a little sister who is put in her care while her mother recuperates. When the baby dies, May Amelias vituperative Finnish grandmother publicly blames her at the funeral. The girl gives in to grief and rage, swearing that she will never again live with her family. A stay with a kindly aunt and uncle in a bustling city provides more adventure, a bit of polish, and a best girl friend. But when news arrives that Grandmother Patience has passed away, May Amelia must make an important decision. Her first-person narrative, in an almost stream-of-consciousness style, has plenty of hilarity to lighten the pathos inevitably found in the harsh reality of pioneer life. Holm also pays much attention to the limited roles allowed women of this era, describing Indian healers, tavern keepers, teachers, and even an aunt who is supported by an affluent gentleman. An engaging family story, portions of which will make dramatic read-alouds.Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly
An unforgettable heroine narrates Holm's extraordinary debut novel set in Washington State in 1899. Twelve-year-old tomboy May Amelia Jackson, the youngest of seven children and the only girl in a Finnish immigrant family, lives in the wilderness along the Nasel River: """"I have so many brothers, more than any girl should have. My secret birthday wish is to get a sister."""" Holm's uncanny ability to give each of the siblings--and a wide range of adults--a distinctive character while maintaining May Amelia's spunky narrative voice, gives the novel its immediacy and potency. Through May Amelia's travels, readers witness the diverse ways of life in the expanding West: peaceful relations with the Chinook Indians, the plight of a widow barmaid, the taboos around her brother's interest in an Irish girl, the dangers posed by the neighboring logging camp, her aunt's life in the nearby boomtown of Astoria, Ore., as well as the rhythms of the seasons. The sometimes gruesome realities of the Jacksons' lives are tempered by May's strength of character and her bond to her favorite brother, Wilbert. Readers will fall in love with May Amelia's spirited nature; when she saves her brothers from a cougar, she tells them, """"I reckon it's a Darn Good Thing I'm not a Proper Young Lady or you'd be a cougar's supper right about now."""" This novel is not to be missed. Ages 9-up. (June)
Word Count: 46,545
Reading Level: 4.8
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.8 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 35294 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.5 / points:12.0 / quiz:Q20073
Lexile: 900L
Guided Reading Level: R
Fountas & Pinnell: R
Our Only May Amelia

Chapter One

My Brother Wilbert Tells Me

My brother Wilbert tells me that I was the first ever girl born in Nasel, that I was A Miracle. He tells me this as we stand at the edge of the water, on the Nasel River, watching it rush by crazily. He is trying to cheer me up.

Wilbert has found me here on the Baby Island where I have run away on account of Pappa being awful to me. Even Wilbert says it is terrible that Pappa was awful to me today, on my own birthday. Wilbert is thirteen and my favourite brother which is something indeed since I have so many brothers, more than any girl should have. My secret birthday wish is to get a sister but I don′t know how likely that is.

These are my brothers:

Matti is eighteen.

Kaarlo is seventeen and one half and is really our cousin but I guess he′s sort of a brother.

Isaiah is sixteen.

Wendell is fifteen.

Alvin is fourteen.

Ivan is fourteen too. He is Alvin′s twin and they look as alike as two blackberries. Only Wilbert and I can tell them apart, even Mamma has trouble.

Wilbert is thirteen.

May Amelia Jackson is twelve. That is Me.

We live on the Nasel in the state of Washington. It is 1899.

Pappa is always yelling at me Don′t Get Into Mischief May Amelia when all I′m ever doing is what some other boy has done first. He says that I am a Girl and because I am a girl I cannot be doing what the boys are doing, that there is danger everywhere. Wilbert tells me that Pappa has had a hard life. That you can see the hardness in the lines of his face, what with coming all the way to Washington after being pressed into the Finnish Navy and leaving Finland. That′s why he′s hard on me. But Wilbert′s wrong. Pappa doesn′t like little girls very much in general, and me in particular.

Mamma has a baby in her belly and Pappa said ′Children I sure do hope your mamma gives us another boy ′cause I don′t think I can stand another May Amelia. He said this in front of all the boys, after hollering at me for going up to Ben Armstrong′s logging camp by myself. I said But Ivan and Alvin go up by themselves and he said May Amelia, I will not abide any arguments.

But Pappa′ I said. Then he hollered so loud I′m sure they heard him over at the Petersen farm.

That logging camp′s a dangerous place for a young girl! he hollered. I don′t want you running around there, Do You Hear Me? Then his eyebrows got all fierce-looking and met in the middle and he shook his finger at me and That Was That.

I hate it when he scolds me so I ran away. I took the little rowboat onto the Nasel and went to the Baby Island and hid in the old sorcerer tree until Wilbert came to fetch me home. He′s the only one who knows about the sorcerer tree. It′s all hollow- like and fits a small child like me just fine.

I say Wilbert I reckon I would like to be buried in the sorcerer tree when I die, and he says Fine May but you′re not likely to die anyways. You′re only twelve and you hafta be old to die didn′t you know that?

I say I did but was just a-planning.

And now Wilbert is fooling around with Bosie, trying to get Bosie to jump into the water and chase after the little fishies. Bosie′s a scruffy dog. His hair is missing in places from where it′s been lost in fights with the mean raccoon who lives behind the milking barn.

It is starting to get hot, it being nearly June, and here on the Nasel the breeze is hiding, and the mosquitoes are trying to bite me the way Bosie is trying to bite the little fishies in the water. Bosie′s a strong swimmer but the Nasel is rough, and the water is dragging him downstream.

Wilbert, I say. Fetch Bosie out before he washes into the Shoalwater Bay.

The Nasel runs into the Shoalwater Bay farther downstream and then into the wide ocean. To the south overland is the mighty Columbia River, and on the other side of the Columbia is Oregon and Astoria. Astoria is the only real city in these parts and it′s a wicked place full of shanghaiers and seamen and all sorts of fancy folks, not like out here in Nasel where the only fancy thing is a new pair of shoes. At least that′s what Wilbert tells me, I have never been there myself. Our Aunt Alice lives there and she is very fancy indeed. She is coming to visit on account of my birthday, and so are my Aunt Feenie and Uncle Henry. I am turned twelve this very day and I have spent most of it hiding in a tree.

Wilbert whistles for Bosie.

Bosie is not a very good fisherdog. He has caught one fish only, and a small one at that, not enough even for a small child′s supper. When he gets out of the water he shakes his scruffy fur and gets Wilbert all wet.

Stop It Bosie! Wilbert yells.

Wilbert scowls fiercely and the scar crinkles under his eye from where Kaarlo decked him in a fight.

Let′s try and fish, I say. We can get some salmon and surprise Mamma.

Now that Mamma has a baby in her belly she is worn out all the time so I have to help her a lot around the house with the cooking and just about everything. That is why I hope the new baby will be a girl. Then all the hard work will be worth it.

Not to mention I sure am tired of being the only girl around here.

The Baby Island is a very small island in the middle of the Nasel River down from our farm. When I was a small child, I used to believe it was where all the babies came from on account of its name. It′s a good place for fishing even though it is where the Chinooks bury their dead. I have never seen a dead Indian here but I expect they keep them hid. Those Indians sure are clever.

Wilbert swears to me that the Baby Island is accursed on account of the Chinook spirits that wander there but I think he is only just scared and he calls things names when he is scared of them. He tells me our teacher Miss McEwing is a Witch and she is the most loveliest woman I have ever seen. Why she is sweet and nice and kind to us children, not at all like old Mr. Barton who used to whip our hands with pine branches. No indeed. Miss McEwing even lets us take off our wet clothes and sit by the potbelly stove to dry off when the weather is bad which is almost always it seems.

Wilbert doesn′t like studies and cannot speak English very well, only Finnish, and Miss McEwing is always correcting him, saying Speak English Wilbert Jackson. Mamma says all us children must learn to speak English or else we will always have trouble even though she and Pappa speak mostly Finnish. Nearabout everyone around here speaks Finnish. Our real last name is Juntilla, but when Pappa came over from Finland, they said it would be better for him if he had an American name and that is why we are Jacksons.

Wilbert has a hard time with the English and one time he peeked at my answer sheet when Miss McEwing was clear across the room looking the other way. No Wandering Eyes Wilbert Jackson, she said and ever since then Wilbert has been convinced that Miss McEwing is a Witch.

Even though Wilbert gets scared it is okay because he is only afraid of Miss McEwing and the Chinook spirits on the Baby Island. Nothing else scares him, not even Pappa′s belt. He has come all the way to the Baby Island which he thinks is cursed to find me, May Amelia, a no-good girl.

I have plenty of brothers but only one Wilbert.

We go to the part of the island where the water is slow, where the fishies are fat and lazy. The breeze blows gently here and I think it is not a bad thing after all to be spending my birthday fishing with Wilbert. There is nothing I like better.

My line is in the water and right away it seems I feel a tug. The line tugs hard and I tug back. A salmon′s silky fin slip-slides in the water.

I got one Wilbert! I yell.

Hold on May, he says and drops his own line and runs over. He helps grab the pole but the salmon is strong. It′s pulling hard and Bosie′s barking and barking and then all of a sudden Bosie jumps into the water and bites my fish.

Bosie Let Go! Wilbert and I say together.

But dumb ole Bosie has caught only the hook. The fish who is smarter than our dog has gotten away. Bosie′s yelping and whining on account of the hook that′s stuck in his cheek. Wilbert dives right into the Nasel, clothes and all, and brings Bosie back to shore.

He is a sad dog indeed by the time Wilbert drops him on the bank.

Hold him down May, Wilbert says. I gotta take the hook outta his cheek.

Bosie′s plenty mad ′the hook must hurt terribly′ but still I hold him down. Wilbert just sticks his hand right into Bosie′s mouth and pries the hook out. Bosie′s bleeding, but he′s happy to have the hook out of his mouth. He yelps and licks Wilbert′s face.

You sure are a dumb dog Bosie, Wilbert says.

We live in a valley on a homestead along the Nasel. Our land snakes from high upriver near Ben Armstrong′s logging camp right down to a bay by our house, where we have a small dock so that a body can tie up a rowboat which is very handy indeed. There are big fat mountains to the north full of tall pine trees and all sorts of Chinook secrets. Our farm has cows and sheeps and pigs and a fat barn cat named Buttons. We make milk and sell it and the cream too to the Sunshine Mill downriver.

Aunt Alice is at the house when we get home. She has come all the way from Astoria on account of my birthday. It is a long journey and she hardly ever visits because of the distance. But she always comes on my birthday.

You are my only niece, May Amelia, and that is cause for celebration any day, Aunt Alice always says.

Aunt Alice is Mamma′s sister from Boston and hasn′t got a husband but still she looks just fine to me. I may not have a husband if I can live like Aunt Alice in her lovely house in Astoria. Wilbert says that it has a flower garden in the back and real photographs of folks on the walls and always smells like a lady, not like a cow.

Mamma looks real tired when we come in; her dark hair is drooping out of the bun and her shoulders are sagging. She is rubbing the place on her belly where the new baby is growing. Mamma takes one look at Wilbert and me and Bosie standing there dripping wet and says, I sure hope you children caught some fish if you took a dunk in the Nasel.

Yeah, says Kaarlo nastily. You were gone long enough. Sure you weren′t up at Ben Armstrong′s camp May Amelia? he says, trying to get me into trouble.

Shut up Kaarlo, I say.

Don′t be mean to May, Wendell says, it′s her birthday. Wendell is such a good brother; he is always sticking up for me.

What did you catch May? Matti asks gently.

Did you catch salmon? Ivan and Alvin say together.

Hush boys, Mamma says. Did you catch any fish at all, May?

I shrug.

No, Wilbert says with a grin, but we caught a dog.

Aunt Alice shoos Wilbert and all the boys out of the kitchen and says, May, why don′t you and I fix supper and let your poor sweet mamma rest awhile before she drops that babe of hers right here on the rug?

Aunt Alice is wearing a fine rose-coloured silk dress with real shell buttons and her hair is shiny and golden and tied up in a fancy bob with ribbons. I don′t think I′ve ever seen Mamma in a dress as pretty as Aunt Alice′s. She most often wears a black cotton skirt and a white blouse. And since Aunt Alice looks so pretty and Mamma is sitting down drinking the cider that Alice has brought, I go about fixing supper real quiet-like so that they can talk and tell secrets. Aunt Alice treats me as if I am all grown up and not only twelve, which is fine by me because I mostly feel as if I am practically a hundred years old.

Aunt Alice says to Mamma, Dear Alma, why you′ve had some child in that stomach of yours forever it seems, haven′t you had enough? I thought you weren′t going to have any more.

Mamma just sits there and says, Alice are you here to help or to hinder ′cause I ain′t abiding any hinderers right now.

I′m a helper Mamma, I say.

You sure are darling. Thank God for May. Alice, I swear all these boys put together wouldn′t know how to butter a slice of bread if there wasn′t a woman in the room.

That′s just their nature Alma, says Alice smoothing down her fine skirt. After seven boys I would′ve thought you′d be used to them by now.

I hope you have a girl Mamma, I say. We can call her Little Alice after Aunt Alice.

Aunt Alice smiles at me. Why May Amelia you really are a dear, she says. Who would′ve thought there would be such a lady way out here in the middle of nowhere?

Nasel is truly in the middle of nowhere′ why, there′s nothing here but land and trees and elk and sheep and bears and boys. Mostly boys though. There haven′t been any girls born out here since me and I am the only young girl in the Island Schoolhouse. Sometimes I see Chinook Indian girls when I am in the woods but the closest Finnish girls my age are near Knappton, too far for playing.

The front door opens and Uncle Henry and Aunt Feenie come in carrying a box with a yellow bow. Aunt Feenie is Pappa′s sister and she is married to Uncle Henry and they are my favourite relations after Aunt Alice because they are so nice to Wilbert and me. Uncle Henry is much older than Aunt Feenie and Pappa says Feenie married him for his riches although I cannot imagine what Pappa means because they have no more money than us and we do not have hardly any at all. Mamma says Pappa is a stubborn old Finn who doesn′t like foreigners and not to mind him.

Uncle Henry is Scottish, not Finnish like everybody else around here, but I don′t think it matters one bit because he is the smartest person I have ever met. Why, he can speak five languages on account of being a famous sea captain. His real name is Neal McNeil and Mamma says that he changed his name when he came to America because of some trouble he had back in Scotland. Now he is just Henry Smith, which is very American indeed. He has a room in his house filled with nothing but books. We don′t have enough books to fill even one shelf. Pappa says they have a room for books because they could not have a baby on account of Uncle Henry always being away at sea.

Well, if it isn′t my favourite niece! Uncle Henry says with a smile, swooping me into his arms for a bear hug. He even looks like a bear, with his bushy red beard and broad chest and big belly.

I am all sticky and my braid has come undone and my shirt has got mud on it from the dunking in the Nasel. I do not look like a birthday girl, and in Wilbert′s old torn dungarees I don′t think I look much like a girl at all. Uncle Henry eyes me and shakes his head.

May Amelia, you look like you′ve been shanghaied! Uncle Henry roars with a laugh.

Aunt Feenie hands me the box. This is for you, May. Happy birthday dear.

Uncle Henry wanders off to the porch where Pappa is smoking his pipe and I tear open the box.

It is a baby doll. She is the most beautiful baby doll I have ever seen with a real china face and a white silk dress. Truly, it is the loveliest thing I have ever owned.

Do you like her May? Aunt Feenie asks anxiously. Aunt Feenie is not as pretty as Aunt Alice, but she has a kind heart. Her eyes are grey as a gull′s wing and have a sad pull to them. I think she wishes she had a child.

It′s a fine doll, Mamma says.

Wilbert, Wendell, Ivan, Alvin, Kaarlo, and Isaiah crowd around me.

It sure is pretty May Amelia, Wendell says. I reckon I could help you make another dress for it.

What′re you gonna call her May? Wilbert says.

Baby Feenie, I say, looking at my aunt.

Aunt Feenie smiles.

A minute later my big brother Matti comes in carting a wooden crate. He sets it down in front of me with a grunt.

It′s from all us boys, May Amelia, Matti says. Happy birthday.

I take the lid off the crate and inside is a fine, sturdy-looking carved wooden pirate ship attached to a long string.

It′s for Susannah, Alvin says. Susannah is my rag doll.

So that she can search for treasure, Isaiah suggests.

And go out on the Nasel, Ivan says.

Even when you can′t May Amelia! Wilbert says, and everybody laughs, even Kaarlo.

Wilbert and I go out to the porch where Uncle Henry is sitting with Pappa. Uncle Henry is a famous sea captain and has travelled everywhere. Why, he has been to the Sandwich Islands and the East Indies even. He always has stories about sailors being shanghaied all the way to the Orient. He says they fall asleep in their beds and wake up on a bunk in the rolling waves. You can take me to China anytime, I always tell Uncle Henry. I′d do anything to get away from Nasel. I′d be happy to get shanghaied, even if I did wake up on the China Sea.

Uncle Henry leans forward and puffs on his ivory pipe.

I was just telling your father here about the time I sailed around Cape Horn up to San Francisco and toward the Shoalwater Bay. I very nearly didn′t make it that time. When we reached Cape Disappointment, our ship got caught in an awful storm and nearly crashed into the cliff rocks, he says.

I guess that′s why the old sailors call it Cape Disappointment Uncle Henry, I say.

He says, I guess so Miss May Amelia, and wasn′t I nearly the fool to pay no mind to the salty old dogs?

At supper Mamma tells us children that Aunt Feenie is going to stay with us for a spell on account of Uncle Henry′s sailing trip.

Where are you off to now Henry? Aunt Alice asks.

Heading to San Francisco, Alice, Uncle Henry says between bites. Fine stew you got here Alma.

Aunt Feenie says she′ll be right lonely with Henry being gone and has decided to get a cooking job with Nora Fuller at Ben Armstrong′s logging camp which is situated a few miles away up the Nasel from our farm. The forest heading up to Ben Armstrong′s is too thick for roads so the loggers use the Nasel to get the logs down. We live at the bay of the Nasel, and that′s where all the logs from Armstong′s logging camp eventually float down to.

We′ll be happy to have you here Feenie, won′t we May Amelia? Mamma says with a wink at me. The boys will sort you out a bed.

I am so excited I can hardly contain my own self just imagining Aunt Feenie living with us! It will only be until Uncle Henry gets back from sea she tells me but I say fine, fine, that′s plenty long. It′s almost as nice a gift as the baby doll.

When everyone is in bed I whisper to Wilbert. Wilbert and I share a room at the back of the house, near the barn, and sometimes I can hear the cows lowing.

I wish we could live with Uncle Henry and Aunt Feenie in Astoria, I say.

We can′t May, Wilbert whispers back.

How come?

Because we just can′t, he says. We have to help mind the farm.

I know this too but I wish we didn′t have to always Mind The Farm. I am busy with chores and whatnot nearly all the time now since Mamma has got the baby coming, there is hardly ever any time for tricks and adventures these days. We are up at the crack of dawn and in bed later and later every night.

The door creaks open and Wendell creeps in and sets on our bed. Wendell is my second-favourite brother after Wilbert. Wendell wears eyeglasses on account of being blind as a bat and he squints at us in the candlelight. Pappa had to go all the way to Astoria to fetch the glasses for him.

Kaarlo′s snoring is too loud, he says, I won′t get a wink. I′m sleeping in here. Shove on over Wilbert.

Wilbert moves over and now there are three children in a bed meant for two.

I′ve been telling Wilbert here that I want to leave the farm, I say.

I want to leave the farm too, May Amelia. I′ll never learn to be a doctor in these parts, Wendell says.

Wendell has always wanted to be a real doctor and I suspect one day he will if he ever gets off the farm. Wendell is always saying that I can do whatever I want to do, that the best thing for me would be to get off the farm and go out into the wide world. He always tells me that I have sisu, which is Finnish for guts, and that I can do anything. It always makes me feel better when he tells me this.

Outside the window the sky is black and the stars are winking at me. I watch the fireflies dancing in the field and realise my birthday is nearly over, and I haven′t made my secret birthday wish yet. Mamma says that a wish made on a birth-day always comes true. I don′t know about that, though. Last year I wished for Kaarlo to stop being so mean to me all the time but he′s still the same mean old Kaarlo.

Still, it can′t hurt to try. I think hard but it′s an easy wish. I can′t tell anyone, not even Wilbert and he is my very best brother. I can′t tell him because he′ll never understand what it is like to be me, May Amelia Jackson, the only Jackson girl, and the only girl in Nasel.

I squeeze my eyes tight and wish hard with my heart that Mamma has a little baby girl so that I can have a sister.

I just made my birthday wish, I whisper. But Wilbert and Wendell aren′t listening to me.

They′re too busy snoring.

Our Only May Amelia. Copyright © by Jennifer Holm . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm, Holm
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

The beloved Newbery Honor book by the author of The Fourteenth Goldfish, about a spirited heroine growing up with trying circumstances, a sense of adventure, and tremendous heart. This middle grade novel is an excellent choice for tween readers in grades 5 to 6, especially during homeschooling. It’s a fun way to keep your child entertained and engaged while not in the classroom.

It isn't easy being a pioneer in the state of Washington in 1899. It's particularly hard when you are the only girl ever born in the new settlement.

With seven older brothers and a love of adventure, May Amelia Jackson just can't seem to abide her family's insistence that she behave like a Proper Young Lady. She's sure she could do better if only there were at least one other girl living along the banks of the Nasel River. And now that Mama's going to have a baby, maybe there's hope.

Inspired by the diaries of her great-aunt, the real May Amelia, three-time Newbery Honor-winning author Jennifer Holm gives a beautifully crafted tale of one young girl whose unique spirit captures the courage, humour, passion and depth of the American pioneer experience.

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