Kestin (Hammy, 2012) offers an illustrated memoir about her 1940s childhood.
Mary Kestin is “three fingers old” and living on a Montana farm as the story begins. Her parents soon move the family to Cheney, Wash., to complete their studies at a teachers’ college, and the book ends before Mary turns 5, when her parents receive their degrees. The tale is structured like a scrapbook, with each short chapter providing a snapshot of a minor event. Kestin’s early life on the farm includes recollections of gathering eggs, playing in fields and a minor farm accident. In Washington, mischievous Mary learns about city life in “A Rope Lesson.” In “‘M’ is for Mary,” the author vividly portrays her first writing experience (“I am the boss of the pencil!”); this epiphany is particularly noteworthy, as the author grows up to be an accomplished visual artist. The poems that end each chapter are less effective, as they often attempt to synthesize nuanced content into simplistic ditties, such as, “Mary has a red berry that makes her tongue cherry and her fingers scary.” Many anxieties slip into the stories, as well; for example, Mary doesn’t understand why her daddy doesn’t like to hug her; her grandmother clearly favors her sister; and she learns that her uncle fell asleep on the couch after drinking too much, which made her aunt mad. Such remembrances may be disquieting for younger readers. However, the author does effectively portray a child’s point of view, as when young Mary sits in the dirt: “I’m plowing a corn field with a table fork. My cow is an empty wooden spool of thread with a long string tied around the middle. I can pull my cow through my fields.” However, adults reading aloud may be stumped to decipher the line, “I want the isinglass egg that the sick boy received with the hole in it that showed a picture of Easter.”
An uneven amalgam of memoir, storybook and picture album.