Simon and Schuster, Sept., 2017 116 pages
Sylvie lives on a small Nebraskan farm with her younger brother, opera-singing mother, and cowboy father. Her parents met years ago when Mom was on tour and Dad asked her to dance. Now, years later, Sylvie wonders if her mother is happy with that choice and questions whether singing for cows and kids is enough for her. An aspiring poet, Sylvie gets a summer job riding along with the local Sheriff, who happens to be her beloved fourth-grade teacher's husband, recording for the local newspaper all that she sees. She reports the town's doings in the form of poetry, which becomes popular among the local residents. While traveling around in Bud's sheriff car, Sylvie discovers things about her small town and its residents that she never knew before. She makes new friends, unravels the secrets behind crows, and learns some truths about her own family. When mother's former singing partner comes for a visit, Sylvie must face her fears and insecurities concerning her, only to realize that singing for those you love can be just as rewarding as singing for thousands. All's well that ends well and even the dilemma of Sylvie having to get use to a new teacher is resolved for her in a happy, fairy-tale ending.
Beloved children's author, MacLachlan, turns back to the setting and major theme of her Newbery winning title Sarah Plain and Tall. Though set in a contemporary time period, MacLachlan revisits the rural American prairie and celebrates its richness and the folks that cultivate it. Also revisited is the theme common to the plight of many children who worry if they "are enough" for the adults whom they love. Sylvie worries that her mother will not be content in their shared simple life with just the small family of four and barnyard animals for company. She learns by book's end that they are are primary importance to her mother and singing to them gives her more pleasure than touring the great concert halls of the world. The book also celebrates the value of inner-generational friendship and the glories of small-town living. The world MacLachlan envisions is a bit idealistic, where the simple town-folk all appreciate poetry and opera and live in harmony, but for children living isolated in the suburbs this glimpse of the what small-town America could be is like heaven. MacLachlan's writing is, as always, precise, mindful, and lyrical. Every word is meant to be included in the text and the story reads like one long poem. This book would make a wonderful read-aloud and, since it celebrates the power of poetry, has very clear classroom connections. Our story ends with a simple poem sharing the message with the reader that it is not necessary to over-complicate life, "Life is Simple. Just Dance."