Miracles on Maple Hill

Miracles on Maple Hill
Virginia Sorensen - 1957

Read to:  3rd - 4th grade
Read independently:  5th - 6th grade
 
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     This is the story of 12 year old Joe and 10 year old Marly, a brother and sister who's father (Dale) has returned from the war and seems to be suffering from PTSD, although not specifically diagnosed in the time period.  Their great-grandmother had a small home in the Pennsylvania woods (on Maple Hill) which they have access to.  The mother (Lee) spent a lot of time there when she was young and still knows the neighbors.  The family of four goes out for a weekend and Dad stays on to fix the place up so they can spend the summer there.  After the summer it turns into a permanent residence because the father is doing so well there.  The whole family really takes to nature, raising goats and chickens and harvesting maple syrup.  The reader gets quite an education about syrup processing.  The author does a good job of presenting the details in small pieces, in interesting ways on a simple level so nothing is too overwhelming.  On the other hand, if the reader is not a plant and flower enthusiast they might get a little frustrated at several points when Ms. Sorensen waxes on and on about flowers and plants as if everyone shares the hobby to her extent.

     The siblings get along fairly well but the two year age difference does cause Joe to feel that Marly holds him back when he goes on adventures such that he often sneaks off without her.  Sometimes Marly follows him, sometimes she just pesters him when he gets back.  Either way arly is a girl with a conscience - "Marly felt a tickle of shame about bragging to make Joe feel bad - but she hope Joe felt a tickle of shame too for leaving her behind."  (p. 15)  She was also full of compassion, "Joe crowded over to look from her window, too.  He looked determined and she knew how he felt; after what happened before, he absolutely had to see Maple Hill first.  And she decided to let him.  Boys were queer.  They seemed afraid they'd stop being boys altogether if they couldn't be first at everything." (p. 21)

     The family has pinned such high hopes on Maple Hill, there is even a moment at their arrival when Marly worries it won't live up to their expectations.  "Sometimes even Christmas wasn't as much fun as getting ready for it.  Maybe thinking about Maple Hill would turn out to be better than Maple Hill itself.  //  She whispered, 'Please let there be miracles.' " (p. 23)

     Marly gets quite upset when they want to exterminate the mice from the house.  She feels bad for having displaced the rodents, who were there first.  Joe doesn't have much patience for these feelings of Marly's, although he does appreciate nature.  One day when they are out together, Marly cries excitedly at the sight of a deer and scares it off.  " 'Why didn't you just shut up?' Joe demanded.  'You scared it off.' "  I felt like Joe was a little too harsh, especially with the words shut up but these words are spoken by him several times throughout the book.  Be quiet would have been just as effective but not as harsh.  Together the siblings spy on some baby foxes.  Later when Marly excitedly tells the adults what they saw, Joe kicks her.  But too late, the adults want to shoot the foxes and rely on Joe to take them back to the den the next day.  So that night the siblings go back to the den and scare them off.  Next day, " 'Funniest thing,' he said.  'We went right to that place and there wasn't a sign of a fox.' "(p. 86)

     The whole family enjoys the company of the neighbors, an older couple named Mr. and Mrs. Chris.  Mrs. Chris's first name is Chrissie.  Their helper is Fritz.  Mr. Chris shows Marly a flower known as bloodroot that only bloom for one day. " 'Used to be a notion that witches killed folks with the blood from this root,' Mr. Chris said.  'But of course it was just a tale.  Anyhow, about witches.  But it's absolutely true that if anybody eats it, his heart will stop in a day.'  //  Marly stared at it, there in his hand thinking about what Mrs. Chris had said about him and his heart.  'Maybe you'd better not hold it in your hand, Mr. Chris' she said." (p. 59)  Mr. Chris does have more serious heart problems towards the end of the book but after a hospital stay everything works out fine.

     There are also a couple of moments of suspense, More so to young readers than to older ones.  The first is when Marly almost gets attacked by cows.  "She dropped the flowers and started to make for the fence, but her feet went in.  There wasn't time to search for the dry grassy places now.  She splashed.  Her feet sank at every step.  She heard herself cry out and could hear her own breathing.  She felt one shoe come off, deep in the mud.  And then she stood on a little island of grass, too scared to move another step." (p. 63)  The suspense continues for several more paragraphs until eventually she escapes.  Another is when they wander onto a recluse's property and he catches them.  After they run off, "On their own road, Joe said he hadn't really been scared.  It was only that you couldn't tell about people like that.  'You hear such queer things.  In the newspapers there are all those awful stories, like, that old man who went into that trailer in New Mexico.'  He kept glancing back.  'If I'd been alone, I'd have just talked to him, Fritz says he's a queer old man but nice when you know him.'  He stopped in the road.  'Maybe we shouldn't have run like that,' he said." (p. 98)

     Joe is even more eager to get back to city life than he was to get away from the hermit.  One day Marly overhears her parents talk about staying at Maple Hill and she tells Joe.  "For a minute Joe stood looking at her.  She saw his face get afraid, just the way it used to get when Daddy was cross.  Once Daddy even reached out and slapped Joe's face, hard, and Mother hurried and took hold of Daddy's arm and said, 'Don't you dare!'  Joe looked just the same now as he had then." (p. 111)  While hardly the abuse described in Me & Emma or The Glass Castle, I did feel this was a somewhat strong paragraph, especially given the audience.  Given the times and situation such stern discipline was probably commonplace.  (It's probably more commonplace today than people like to admit.)  Still, as a responsible reviewer I think it's worth mentioning.  In regards to the move, however, they use another parenting tactic, the family meeting, to make the decision.

     The kids wind up befriending harry the Hermit who, it turns out, is well acquainted with Mr. Chris - even owing his getting settled on the Hill to Mr. Chris.  " 'He never told us a word about doing that for you,' Marly said.  //  'When you have done a great many things, you forget to speak of them,' Harry said.  'It is those who do very little who must talk of it.' " (p. 120)  I thought this was a lovely sentiment - here's to you Clyde Cox, my own personal Mr. Chris.  And Mr. .Christ isn't Harry's only hero.  One day near Christmas, Joe doesn't dome home from his daily roaming.  Everyone is worried and it takes a while to find out he'd gone to visit Harry and found him fallen and injured.  Joe got him up and took care of him until help arrived.  harry spent his first night with the Chris's but next day, despite his Mom's concerns, Joe insists Harry stay with them.  Mom worries he might be infested with bugs but Dad reminds her when he was a POW he had bugs.

  The last 35 pages deal with Mr. Chris's hospitalization, everyone picking up the slack to work through maple season, and finally Mr. Chris's recovery and homecoming.  An enjoyable book, surely with lessons to learn but they require some reflection since they get pushed down by the numerous and varied events of the tale.    
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