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2011 ALA Newbery Winner: Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest 
Winner of the 2011 Newbery Medal
Written by Clare Vanderpool
Published by Delacorte Press, 2010
ISBN # 978-0385738835
Grades 4 and up

Book Review
In this debut novel by Clare Vanderpool, twelve-year old Abilene Tucker has been sent by her father to the seemingly sleepy town of Manifest, Kansas, to live with Pastor Shady Howard while her father finds work in Iowa during the 1930s. Abilene can’t understand why he sent her there, why the town of Manifest holds such meaning for him, and why nobody in town will talk much about the time he spent there. So begins Abilene’s investigations with a spy map, a hidden box of mysterious trinkets and letters from the past, a set of old local newspapers, and an elderly diviner who tells cryptic but compelling stories from a decade earlier about two boys from the town. Vanderpool smoothly combines a variety of genres—including historical fiction, journalism, letter writing, and song and rhyme—to tell this coming-of-age story. Moreover, she packs the novel with subtle but significant details that will encourage readers to go back and reread earlier chapters to piece together clues about Abilene’s father’s and the town’s past. When the novel pulls all the threads together at the end, the result is not only satisfying, but clever and heartwarming as well. 

Teaching Invitations 
  • A Deeper Exploration of Setting. The setting of a story is much more than its time and place; it also involves the community norms, historical movements, and social atmosphere that ground character motivation and plot events. Engage students in a discussion and inquiry into these deeper qualities of setting, and have them identify them in Moon Over Manifest, which takes place during two distinct periods in American history. Support these discussions with multimedia resources such as radio programs, photographs, and writing from the various time periods (see the online resources and books in the Further Explorations section below). Have students collaborate with each other to piece these deeper details of setting into an artistic, written, spoken, or multimedia project of their own.
  • The Art of Storytelling. Whether they are told by Miss Sadie, sung through train songs, or written and reported by Hattie Mae, stories are rife throughout the novel. Storytelling is not as easy as it seems, though, and skilled storytellers will explain how they study and practice it as a craft. Have students explore and practice the art of storytelling. They might tell a favorite fairy tale, family story, or a story they’ve written themselves. You might also refer to storytelling resources like Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book, NPR’s Story Corps, or the National Storytelling Network (see Further Explorations section below).
  • Literary Allusions. A number of authors, book titles, and famous quotations and characters are name-dropped throughout the novel as literary allusions. Why might an author include them? What should a reader know in order to understand them? Have students identify some of the allusions—or what they think are allusions—in Moon Over Manifest and brainstorm their meanings. Then have students investigate their actual meanings, perhaps by reading some excerpts from the primary sources, and then discuss how those allusions relate to what’s happening in Moon Over Manifest. For students who are brand new to the concept of allusions, you might want to first model these activities with a book like Previously (see Futher Explorations section below), which provides a variety of allusions to a series of fairy tales.
  • Medicinal Herbs. Miss Sadie enlists Abilene’s help to gather medicinal herbs for her ailments. As Abilene searches for them among the local vegetation, she learns to identify them and their uses. Have students research indigenous plants that grow in their community and what possible medicinal uses they may have. You might also have them create an online database via a blog or wiki that describes their identifying characteristics and the conditions they may be helpful in addressing. 

Critical Literacy 

  • The Idea of “Universals.” Abilene states that some things in life are “universals” and points out what they are as she encounters them. Can anyone really declare such things, though? Are there universals, absolute truths, or concrete, permanent, and “natural” realities in life? What are the benefits and dangers of such declarations? Engage students in discussions about the “universals” they observe and believe. Try to challenge their thinking to entertain the possibilities that others may believe different, but equally valid “universals.” Perhaps one of the best ways to do this without sounding too preachy or authoritarian is to develop an inquiry unit around the universals they identify. They might also take one “universal” to do an art, poetry, or other multimedia or multimodal project around that presents their findings.
  • Inquiring into Immigration, Labor Issues, and Discrimination. Moon Over Manifest raises many overlapping issues about prejudice, discrimination, immigration, and unfair working conditions. How do each of these concerns influence one another? How might addressing or not addressing one of them impact the effects or power of the others? Have students read about one or all of these issues in a variety of genres—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, song, drama, etc.—and work in groups to create their own multi-genre project on the issue(s) to advocate for social justice. You may want to refer to Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s books as well as the work on multigenre research done by Tom Romano (see the Further Explorations section below).

Further Explorations 

Online Resources 

2011 American Library Association (ALA) John Newbery Medal,%20Grants%20and%20Scholarships&uid=9975B44A8D61AEE9 

Clare Vanderpool’s website 

Primary Source Documents (photos, writings, etc.) – American Memory Project of the Library of Congress

Primary Source Documents (photos, writings, etc.)- American Memory Timeline of the Library of Congress 

NPR’s Story Corps 

National Storytelling Network

United Mine Workers of America 

Almanac of Policy Issues – Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws 

Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s website on social issues 

Tom Romano’s website on multigenre research 


Ahlberg, A. (2007). Previously. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press. 

  • A delightful and clever picture book that weaves together well-known storybook characters to explain how present events are made up of interrelated histories.

Bartoletti, S. C. (1996). Growing up in coal country. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

  • A compilation of archival documents, photography, and oral history about the working conditions and children’s experiences of coal mining families in northeastern Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. 

Bartoletti, S. C. (2010). They called themselves the K.K.K.: The birth of an American terrorist group. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

  • Another stunning compilation of records, from congressional testimonies to diary entries, that examine the history and evolution of the Ku Klux Klan and the social forces that give rise to hate groups. 

Curtis, C. P. (1999). Bud, not Buddy. New York: Yearling.

  • In this Newbery Award winner set during the Great Depression, a ten-year old African American boy searches for the father he’s never met. 

Hesse, K. (1997). Out of the dust. New York: Scholastic. 

  • Written in free verse, this Newbery Award winning novel chronicles Billie Jo’s efforts to deal with family tragedy set in the Oklahoma Dustbowl during the Depression. 

Hesse, K. (2001). Witness. New York: Scholastic. 

  • A powerful free verse novel written from various perspectives about the Ku Klux Klan’s attempts to infiltrate the conscience of a small Vermont town during the Prohibition era. 

Larson, K. (2006). Hattie big sky. New York: Yearling. 

  • This Newbery Honor book set in 1918 describes the story of Hattie Brooks, who leaves Iowa to begin a new life in Montana and deals with the changing events in her life and the first World War through article and letter writing. 

Peck, R. (1998). A long way from Chicago. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers. 

  • In this hilarious Newbery Honor book, Joey and Mary Alice make their annual summer visits from 1929 to 1935 to learn about and stay with their eccentric Grandma Dowdel in her sleepy Midwestern town. 

Peck, R. (2000). A year down yonder. New York: Puffin. 

  • Fifteen-year old Mary Alice returns to her formidable Grandma Dowdel’s home for an entire year in this Newbery Award winner and sequel to A Long Way from Chicago. 

Ryan, P. M. (2000). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic. 

  • The Pura Belpre Award winning novel about a young, rich Mexican girl who loses everything and her experience as a migrant farm worker in California during the Great Depression. 

Sandler, M. The Dust Bowl through the lens: How photography revealed and helped remedy a national disaster. New York: Walker Books for Young Readers. 

  • A photo essay that chronicles the causes, devastation, history, and resolution of the Dust Bowl. 

Seeger, P. & Jacobs, P. D. (2001). Pete Seeger’s storytelling book. New York: Harcourt. 

  • Folksy tales and storytelling tips by one of America’s most beloved singer/songwriters and storytellers.
Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.