The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis details the experiences of the Malones, a strong African American family whose journey spans the states of Indiana and Michigan during the years of the Great Depression. Reading about the Malone’s challenged me to be more grateful for my own family and for the special journey we are on.
Deza Malone, who starts out as a daydreaming Gary, Indiana, schoolgirl writing verbose essays, is the mighty main character of the story. Her poor but strong family is a comforting blanket of dignity and joy. Her older brother Jimmy is small for his age but gifted with a singing voice. Her hardworking father calls Deza his “Darling Daughter.” Practical yet caring, her mother is tirelessly dedicated to holding the family together. Their family motto, “We are a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.”
The next year for the Malones is certainly not wonderful. Their poor but happy family life in Gary, and with that Deza’s academic promise ahead, is torn apart. A tragedy happens to their father while out fishing and he leaves Deza and her mother and brother to find work. Deza, Jimmy, and their mother are soon forced to leave Gary, too. Without a true home, they travel around the Detroit cities of Michigan and Flint for the next year, experiencing shantytowns, racism, and unemployment. The year is full of heartbreak and trials, warping the family blanket, but the separated family’s love and values remain unchanged.
Through the story, Deza grows in maturity. Her humorous, spirited self is made stronger after experiencing the hard realities of poverty and separation from those she loves. Bravely, she even goes unaccompanied into the dark places of the city to find her brother, who leaves them in the middle of the book for a job as a professional singer.
As I read, I was challenged by how Deza’s family persevered and stayed together in spirit with unchanging values and devotion, even as everything around them fell apart. I became more grateful for my own family—my goal-oriented and thoughtful father, energetic and dedicated mother, rambunctious eleven-year-old brother, and playful four-year-old sister—and more aware of how they thoughtfully dedicate themselves to sewing my passions and interests into the family tapestry. When my family moved last summer from Ontario to Connecticut and we were separated from my father for two months. Just as Deza, Jimmy, and their mother let their family values shine during that time of separation, I tied my relationship with my mother tighter and had the opportunity to step up to the new kind of help she needed. Once we moved, I had to say goodbye to my friends and dreams in Ontario. Despite the disappointment and the exhaustion of starting over in a new place, my family has stayed together in strength and spirit.
The Mighty Miss Malone is an exciting read, and the reflection afterwards is just as rewarding. The book is suspenseful but the character development is not rushed; joy and sorrow are intermingled but not in the least bit creating melodrama. Deza’s friendly spirit resonated within my heart, through big experiences and lighthearted moments alike, and I was united with Deza’s family on their journey. Reading The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis inspired me on my own family’s journey and challenged me to be more grateful for the tapestry that my family, with love, continues to sew.
The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. Yearling Books, 2013. Buy the book here and support the Children’s Art Foundation–Stone Soup in the process!
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