A nostalgic middle-grade fiction debut by Wargel about a young girl living on a Midwestern farm with her parents and two brothers.
This slice-of life tale focuses on the weeks approaching fifth-grader Hattie Mae’s favorite holiday, Halloween, as she plans her costume for her school’s annual parade. Her excitement mounts because this year, the school will be giving awards for the best costumes. Hattie always dresses as a witch, as her friends remind her. But this year, she decides to pair with her friend, Charlot, to try something new after seeing her youth-group friends perform as the “Pleasant Hill Porkettes.” (Esmerelda, her farm’s pig, also has 10 new piglets, which further inspires Hattie.) With the assistance of Hattie Mae’s mother, the girls craft unique pig costumes. But when priggish teacher Mrs. Pinchly disapproves of Hattie Mae’s daring use of brassieres as udders, it makes the girl doubt her costume choice. But although the girl is embarrassed and shocked by the chastisement, it merely delays the story’s happy ending. This chapter book effectively introduces a way of life that many middle-graders haven’t experienced—living on a working farm in a rural community where church youth groups are important components of social life. Wargel also includes photographs of her family from her own childhood, and a few questions at the end of the book show her interest in further engaging her readers. Hattie is a determinedly average heroine, but she does show a glimmer of creativity and daring. However, other than the aforementioned scene with Mrs. Pinchly, there’s a curious lack of conflict in the story, which may bore some middle graders. The text features a few appealing images by debut illustrator Mugisha, which help date the events of the book, but Hattie Mae’s name and quaint lifestyle suggest a less modern setting than the images do.
An idealized version of childhood that may be comforting to some readers but slow going for others.