Thursday, January 31, 2013

Leona & Me, Helen Marie (A Small Town U.S.A. Novel)

“Watch me, Leona. I’m Miss Tarantula, mysterious tight rope walker of Madagascar!” I lifted my arms for balance and started across the wooden beam in the barn loft, one foot in front of the other, imitating the lady we’d seen at the circus in New Albany. After reaching the wall, I made a little curtsey, trying to pull my overalls out like they were the net skirt the trapeze artist had worn.

“Magnificent, Helen,” Leona said, mimicking a ring master. She held onto a joist about thirty feet away from where I’d ended my trip across the barn.
“With my eyes closed this time,” I said.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. Leona was nine, two years older than me, and liked to pretend she was in charge.

“Watch me. Watch me,” I said, closing my eyes and turning around on the beam toward the way I thought I’d come. My bare toes gripped the rough edges of the wood.

“Helen Marie Heffner, you stop right now.” Her voice sounded just like Mama’s when I’m gonna get in trouble, but I took a step. Then another. On the third one, there wasn’t a beam under my foot. My eyes flew open and my legs peddled the air, like a character in the comic papers, trying to find a way to stop falling.

“Le—o—naaa!” I screeched.

Seven-year-old Helen Marie Heffner has a knack for getting into trouble, followed close behind by her older sister, Leona Mae. Whether it’s walking the barn beams like a tightrope, fooling the neighbor boys into thinking they’re being chased by a fiery jack-o-lantern, or making a mess rather than transferring a pattern for Mama’s Christmas surprise, Helen comes out the winner every time.

But life is not always fun and games in 1922 for this southern Indiana family. In the wake of the Depression of the previous two years, the girls and their mama are often left alone in Hancock’s Chapel while their papa travels to find work to keep the family finances alive. Lately, Mama’s been showing signs of not feeling well, and Helen is stuck at home, missing the entire school year while she recuperates from the rheumatic fever that struck her the year before. Mama fears the worst is about to happen. Everything from the barn owl, to the chicken thief, the stranger who passed by one evening to a poor neighbor-boy who falls into the ravine, all point to signs of trouble to come. And sure enough, it does.

Leona and Me, Helen Marie, a middle grade novel from A Small Town U.S.A. series, is hometown historical fiction in the style of Richard Peck (A Long Way from Chicago, The Teacher’s Funeral, Here Lies the Librarian) and Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), with a touch of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie thrown in for good measure.

Winner of the League of Utah Writer’s Diamond Quill for Youth Fiction, Leona & Me, Helen Marie is sure to delight readers with its glimpse into yesteryear.

Author Lu Ann Brobst Staheli is a three time Utah Best of State Medal recipient, former winner of Utah’s Original Writing Competition, and Utah’s Christa McAuliffe Fellow. A native Hoosier, Staheli says, “I still recall vividly my visits to Hancock’s Chapel as a child with my mother. The two-room school house where she attended had been turned into a pig pen, Wenning’s General Store was boarded up, and the house where my mother once lived was gone, but the stories she had told me all of my life brought that tiny crossroads to life in my imagination then, as I hope it will come alive for readers now.”

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