The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Book Review: Walk Two Moons

I finally read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It has been on my bookshelves at home and at school for several years, but I had just never gotten around to read it. (I also own Sharon Creech’s book The Wanderer and I have not read that yet, either.) In fact, I have quite an impressive collection of Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books. Not as extensive as some folks, but pretty decent for someone who has only been actively acquiring them for four years!

Walk Two Moons was the 1995 Newbery Medal winner. It tells the story of Salmananca Tree Hiddle (also known as Sal) and her journey across the country with her grandparents. Sal and her father recently moved from Bybanks, Kentucky, to a small town in Indiana. Sal’s mother, after the heartbreaking loss of a child, experienced some severe depression and decided to go to Lewistown, Idaho, to get away for a while and figure out who she was and what she wanted. Sal and her grandparents are traveling to Lewistown, hoping to get there in time for her mother’s birthday.

As they travel, Sal tells her grandparents about her friend Phoebe and a strange tale of lunatics, secret messages, suspected murderers, friends with bizarre families, and a boy in her class who clumsily tries to express his feelings for her. As Sal tells the story, we also read about her journey with her grandparents, following the same route her mother took when she left. They stop in Illinois (which Sal’s grandfather pronounces “Illi-no-way”), a river in Iowa, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and Yellowstone Park in Wyoming before they finally get to Idaho and discover the truth about Sal’s mother.

I will admit, it took me a while to get going with this book. There are some stories that capture me from the very first page. Other stories take a few chapters. I don’t know how far I was into this story before I realised I was hooked, though. It kind of snuck up on me. All I know is that one day I felt it was almost a chore to read and the next day I could hardly put it down! Throughout the story, there are mysterious messages left at Phoebe’s house with obscure phrases like Before you judge a man, walk two moons in his moccasins or Everyone has his own agenda. The final chapters had me reading late into the night and then getting up early this morning so I could finish.

One of my favourite sections was near the very end. After thinking about life, death, pain, sorrow, and other “bad” things in the world, and how we come up with elaborate explanations to make exceptions for behaviour that make us doubt others, the author gave us this gem:

It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can’t fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that can manage, something that isn’t as awful as it had at first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murders and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind.

To be honest, Walk Two Moons probably won’t become a personal favourite. I don’t think it is a book I will select as a read aloud for my class and I am not even sure I would use it with a reading group. But if I had a student who was struggling with some of the same struggles that Sal has, I would absolutely recommend it. And if you are interested in knowing how children cope with death and loss and feelings of abandonment, this story does a great job expressing it.

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