An orphan girl during the Dust Bowl steals an elephant, some magical seeds, and a cantankerous old man’s heart.
Nitty’s starving since she’s run away from Grimsgate Orphanage, where she’s spent all of her 10 years, but she’ll take hunger outside over abuse inside any day. She’s no thief, but when she sees the gorgeous, glowing, green seeds for sale on the tinker’s wagon, she can’t resist swiping the bag. She flees town in a dust storm, taking refuge with the “Great Magnolious,” an abused circus elephant scheduled to be hanged in a “spectacle never to be forgotten.” The pair finds shelter in cranky Windle’s barn, quickly warming his heart. Despite friendship (Windle is joined in Nitty’s found family by Twitch, a boy with dust pneumonia), all is not well in tiny, poverty-stricken Fortune’s Bluff. The townspeople are deeply in debt to “dastardly” Mayor Snollygost for food and medicines, and it’s funny how the dust storms seem to strike whenever the mayor is angry at someone. Will the magical crop from Nitty’s little cache of stolen seeds help them save the day? Nitty loves words, and Nelson’s prose rises to the occasion, spooling out gorgeous sentences. Twitch has brown skin while almost everyone else is either undescribed or clearly white, but even the villains in this 1930s American town seem inexplicably oblivious to race.
A beautifully written fantasy allegory with comic grace notes. (Fantasy. 9-11)