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Summary: While working with his dad at Mr. King's house, 12-year-old John Fischer (aka Little John) meets Gayle, a young girl in foster care because her parents "flew away." The family, the Cutlins abuse Gayle. John's family is also in tatters. His father is an alcoholic and his sister Raelynn died after falling out of a tree. While playing with Gayle one day, John gets a small cut. When Gayle starts singing, the birds gather and they heal the cut. Mr. King hears her voice, and offers to pay John $500 if Gayle would sing for him. Although Gayle finally agrees, something happens and she gets scared. Ultimately, John's deal with Mr. King is uncovered and John gets in trouble. Nevertheless, his parents take the money to pay the rent, because without it they will be evicted. John, however, decides to give the money to Gayle. Can Gayle's magic save them all? This middle grade novel is based loosely on Hans Christian Anderson's story Nightingale's nest.
Type of Reading: bedtime story, independent reading, read aloud book
Recommended Age: read together: 9 and up; read yourself: 10 and up
Young Reader Reaction: Because of its "link" to Anderson's story, Loftin's tale adds nice variety to classic literature. I liked Nightingale's Nest and found it very thoughtful and human/ The characters are believable and their struggles are very real. Little John is a well-rounded character. His handling of the complicated situations was not ideal, but very engrossing. I also appreciated the subtlety when weaving in the magical realism. Too many stories have very overt uses of magic, which becomes very dull. My only issue is how Little John's mother is portrayed. Her mental state was understandable, but justification for it was slightly excessive. Using Raelynn as a mirror of Gayle was predictable and weakened the mother's struggle.
Adult Reader Reaction: This is a thought-provoking story. You're turning pages to be with Little John and Gayle. It is a book that has stayed with me well beyond finishing it.
Pros: Little John and Gayle are characters that tug at your heartstrings. Your hope for them keeps you turning the pages.
Borrow or Buy: Buy. This is a book that you'll want to remember and treasure.
Educational Themes: Gayle's magical abilities are a very small part of this story. There are a number of "real world" themes that can open young readers eyes to foster care, grief and death, alcoholism, child abuse, poverty, and mental illness. Because of the way they are portrayed, there are opportunities to discuss the topics in a healthy, positive way. It would also be interesting to ask readers what they would do if they were in Little John's shoes.
Notes: A Reading Tub® volunteer submitted this review. He borrowed the book from their local library.
Literary Categories: Fiction - realistic fiction, family, friendship, magic, multicultural, death and loss, middle grade
Date(s) Reviewed: August 2014
Other Reviews: See Critics' Reviews and reader feedback at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.