Missing May: A Great Middle Grade Read... and All Ages Read-Aloud
Some books pack a tremendous amount of wisdom into a slim 80 pages. Cynthia Rylant's Missing May is one such book. I was introduced to it in The College of Education. "Missing May" was the 1993 Newbery Award Winner at a time when Newbery medals were going mostly to contemporary 'problem novels'. Those of us in the College of Education who read the story agreed with the Newbery committee -- Missing May was the best of the best.
Missing May is told by a twelve-year-old Appalachian girl named Summer, whose voice is at once sensitive and quirky and deceptively simple. Summer is a child who had to grow up fast; she was an unwanted orphan until the age of six. At this time, a couple of distant relatives, May and Ob, swooped down and claimed her. She was then given a few good years -- perfect in her eyes -- but now she is twelve, and her beloved May has died. After May's death, Uncle Ob seems unable to go on.
The only person who manages to get through to Ob is Summer's classmate, the school 'geek'. He first showed up on their property looking for old pictures and now spends more and more time with them. Cletus finds a clipping about a bat woman, "a small medium at large", who can communicate with spirits. And so they make plans to visit the bat woman, while also dropping in on the state capitol (a place where Cletus, who has never been more than a short drive from his own home, envisions himself working someday).
But things don't work out as planned. When they get to the bat woman's church, they learn that she herself has died -- she is flying free like the bats, her nephew tells them. This is the end, Summer thinks, this is the time when they abandon all their dreams, and go back to a small cottage, to four closed in walls, and an old man's declining will to stay alive. They start for home, and then for reasons unknown to her, Ob turns the car back around and takes Cletus on a tour of the capitol after all. The next morning, Summer awakes to the sounds and smells of breakfast being fried -- and to a vivid image of May.
Missing May is a great family read-aloud, all the more so because of the voice and the colorful language. Written for middle graders, it is almost an all ages book. I've known adults who have loved the story.
Lesson Plans for Missing May
- Web English Teacher
Lesson plans for Cynthia Rylant's books.
- Lit Plans
A list of lesson plans and resources for Missing May. (Some items are for purchase.)
- Literature Learning Ladders
Free internet resources for Missing May including links to related themes, from death to 'whirligigs'.
- Elementary Education Teacher Resources
Downloadable reading comprehension packet for Missing May.
- Lit Guide Text
Comprehension activities from lit guide text -- may be more suitable for junior high students or home schoolers.
- Study Guide for Missing May
Study guide with printable activities.
- Lit Circle Guide
Guide for conducting lit circle with Missing May -- from Scholastic.
- Scholastic Discussion Questions
More discussion questions, with suggested answers.
Missing May Paperback
Twelve-year-old Summer narrates a tale of loss -- and of the triumph of love over loss. A short tale with some deep themes, Missing May makes an excellent family read-aloud.
Twelve-year-old summer narrates a tale of loss -- and of the triumph of love over loss. A short tale with some deep themes, Missing May makes an excellent family read-aloud.
Student Reviews of Missing May
Deceptively simple and brimming with voice, Missing May packs a lot of wisdom into a slim volume.
Your Analysis of Missing May
What did you think of Missing May?
Cynthia Rylant: Biograhy and Book List - Read more by this author.
Cynthia Rylant's official site
- Autobiography for kids
Here Cynthia Rylant introduces herself to children.
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