“Monarchs are stronger than they look, baby,” Mama said, “and they have a powerful sense how to get where they are going, even if they have never been there before. And how to get home, for that matter. They’re resilient, strong, and smart, especially when traveling together” (p 164-5).
This adventure begins serenely. Maple Rittle and her older sister, Dawn, are carving pumpkins in preparation for Halloween on the mountain. Mama is humming in the kitchen with Beetle, the youngest Rittle, while daddy prepares Maple’s pumpkin. Maple chances to see a monarch butterfly outside the window though it is late in the season for it to be so far north.
The calm is suddenly interrupted with a scream when the fourth Rittle girl arrives prematurely. With their little sister fighting for her life in the hospital, Maple knows a miracle is needed. So she and Dawn head down river to find the Wise Woman and miracle water to cure Lily.
What begins as a journey of hope quickly turns dangerous as the girls encounter rocky rapids, hungry bears, and murderous poachers.
I believe Kirkus reviewed this book well:
While readers will turn pages to discover how all this is resolved and will sympathize with the girls’ motives for the trek, they’ll likely not buy that youngsters of these ages would believe in a magical presence and potion, and the sheer number of dangers strains credulity. Disappointing is the butterfly metaphor: Maple continually notices a monarch that acts as an encouraging totem and spirit guide at various dramatic stages throughout the novel. In the end, this turns out to be an unnecessary motif, because the girls ultimately learn that love and pulling together are really what effect miracles.
I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this book and Birdsall’s Penderwick series. The titles are superficially similar. Both families have four girls and a dog with almost human-like intelligence. While I favor Birdsall’s writing and characters, the Rittles are a force in and of themselves and soon carve out a very different story from the rosie Penderwicks. Maple is tenacious and true, though I found it hard to believe a girl of Dawn’s age would embark on a miracle mission without simply asking her grandmother to take them to the Wise Woman. I would have liked to see more of the family before the girls set off.
The writing is fairly good and at times, very strong. I look forward to more from Moulton. The cover is beautiful and attractive. I’m sure it will circulate well.
Library copy (print) | Philomel | May 12, 2011 | 208 pages | ISBN: 978-0399255151 | Ages 9-12 | $16.99