Grade Level: 5th
Mary Knight’s Saving Wonder is a tale about two young teens trying to save a coal company from destroying their mountain. The story on the surface is really a sweet concept. The idea that seventh graders would love something so much they would be willing to stand up and fight against a large company is really powerful.
This novel lends itself to a lot of really neat lesson ideas, but there are several areas I have concerns about. Early on, the main character, who is narrating the book, describes the serious losses he faced as a young boy. His father was killed in a coal mine accident and later, his mother and baby brother are caught in a sludge slide from the coal lake. Curley, the main character lives with his grandfather who is a loving and supportive man but states outright that he is not a “churchgoing man” but he does “believe in something”.
He and his best friend Jules spend a lot of time together. Curley deals with a lot of jealousy when Jules begins dating the new boy JD. The author writes that Jules tells people Curley is her boyfriend but “not like that”. I am not comfortable with the idea that she is so close to him and claims him as a boyfriend but then dates someone else. There is a moment when JD, Curley, and Jules are at JD’s house studying. JD’s dad comes into the room after to watch tv. Jules and JD go up to JD’s room alone and are there a long time before returning. JD’s dad didn’t seem at all suspicious or concerned that a girl just went up to his son’s room. Jules and Curley also spend a lot of time in their rooms together. (page 107-110)
There are also two instances where Curley has an outburst. On page 123, Curley stops in the middle of his presentation and asks “who cares?” His teacher asks for clarification and he continues to ask who cares if these animals are extinct? It seems a little immature. He also has an outburst towards his grandfather about Jules. He becomes very moody and talks back to his grandfather.
As the kids are preparing to create a video to save their mountain, JD’s father comes on the scene. Mr. Tiverton is the owner of the coal company that is trying to destroy the mountain. He literally manhandles his son. He grabs the camera from his hand and slams it against the tree. He then grabs his son by the collar and yells at him. (Page 174-177)
The other issue I have is when the children participate in a Cherokee ceremony where they pray to the tree the kids love so much. It is interesting to see a cultural event, but they are literally praying to the tree. They thank it for watching over them. They also offer it gifts of tobacco.
Towards the end of the novel, JD and Jules have broken up and now Jules is making her feelings for Curley known. They both sneak out of their houses late one evening and meet at their tree. They engage in a few moments of kissing and caressing. An excerpt from page 271 reads “There’s something about a yes that’s been a long time in coming. It falls all over itself to get where it wants to go. That’s what’s happening now, up here at the Church of Ol’ Charley. Instead of one kiss, like I’ve always pictured it, there are many. And not just on the lips, but all over her face.” The book ends with Curley tracing “the contours of her face in the moonlight…”
I hope this input will help you to decide if this book is right for you and your child.
Lesson Plan Ideas:
- Have your child keep a personal dictionary. They can use words from the novel they do not know. Have them write the word & definition down, draw a picture, and write a sentence.
- They could create images to illustrate the words at the end of each chapter. (The grandfather gives Curley a new word to learn/use in each chapter.)
- Your child could do a geography lesson about the Appalachian mountains in Kentucky.
- Study the flora/fauna of Appalachian Mountains
- Discuss jealousy and the affect it has on people and their relationships.