Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Girl at School: Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

It's good that they are here, inside Mitchel P. Anderson Elementary School, inside Ms. Morgan's fifth grade classroom, inside the room that Uncle Potluck says will be hers once school starts.

Mattie Mae reminds herself there is a whole week before this new school starts and she doesn't have to think about any of that yet.

She can just help Uncle Potluck fulfill his Janitorial Oath.

Mattie's mom has wander-foot, and she has stood in front of a lot of classes while a new teacher tells her to say her name and tell the class about herself. Mattie dreads that moment, and her familiar role as the lonely new girl, but this time she has a plan. She has her private silver notebook with her and intends to write down Uncle Potluck's janitorial maxims on the page titled "Custodial Wisdom," which she is going to memorize so well that Uncle Potluck will make her his Custodial Apprentice. With this title she hopes to be rescued from all those solitary lunch and recess periods she knows are ahead, times like those she has known so many times as the shy new girl. No use hoping for a friend, a real friend, one who is hound dog true.

But Uncle Potluck has more than custodial wisdom; he has an innate understanding of this quiet withdrawn niece and the harm her mother's gypsy ways has worked on her dutiful daughter. And as Mattie settles in to her life at her uncle's house, she begins to find some trust down deep.

"You've got to trust the moon if you want the moon to trust you," Uncle Potluck says as he takes her to the lookout rock by the apple tree to talk to the moon.

He wanted her to talk, Mattie knew. Wanted her to introduce herself, say something fine, but Mattie could not find a word in that dark.

But over that waiting week, that significant week before she has to stand in front by the teacher's desk and say something important about herself to her new class, Mattie comes to feels herself at home. Uncle Potluck sees how it is with Mattie and explains to her mother that all those different schools have not been good for Mattie. Mattie makes a friend with whom she can tell the moon something important about herself, and also finds a friend in her new teacher and new principal as well, She finds people and a place she can trust.

Linda Urban's forthcoming Hound Dog True (Harcourt, 2011) tells of Mattie's learning to do those "small brave acts" that begin a new phase in her life in this quietly told story of new beginnings and old longings met, bringing, as Publishers Weekly says, "poignant moments for readers."

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