Losing a parent is one of the most stressful events a child can experience. Charlotte (Charlie) Anne feels she is losing both of hers. After her mother’s death during childbirth, her father cannot make ends meet. His cousin, Mirabel, arrives to bring law and order to the household and her father heads north to build roads with FDR’s New Deal program. No one resents the situation more than Charlie Anne. Her oldest brother Thomas goes with their father to earn money. Ivy, next in line, does not appear to be maturing, now that she has reached her teens. That leaves Charlie Anne to carry the bulk of the chores and look after little Peter and Birdie. Her one consolation consists in speaking with her mother, whose grave is on their land, near the river. Charlie Anne keeps her mother informed about the family, and, because she is a good listener, Charlie Anne can hear the gentle voice of her mother giving her advice and encouragement.
Life looks bleak, until Mr. Jolly, a neighbor, brings home a new wife and daughter. Phoebe is adopted, for she too has lost her mother. As friendly as the townsfolk seem, they have difficulty accepting Phoebe. She is extremely bright and very kind, but she is also African American. Charlie Anne’s simple heart does not see skin color, however. She only sees a new friend. Although Charlie Anne has trouble learning at school, she discovers that wisdom cannot be obtained from books, and courage does not come from having material goods. Charlie Anne finds the strength to defend her new friend in spite of her insecurities and, in the process, helps her community overcome its own ignorance.
Charlie Anne tells her story in a forthright, candid manner. Although she struggles with both the grief of losing her mother and her own short temper, she never ceases to observe the goodness around her. In spite of her rancor towards Mirabel, she slowly acquires the manners that her cousin wants to instill in her and eventually appreciates the assistance this older woman offers her family. Charlie Anne is a realistic portrayal of a pre-teen whose common sense enables her to “tell it like it is” without ever becoming jaded or losing her love for her family.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.