I admit that about 3/4 of the way through The Prairie Thief, I began to wonder how Melissa Wiley was going to manage to pull this one off. Up ’til then, it had been a great story–part prairie tale and part folk/tairy tale–but I had my doubts as to how it could turn out well for Jake Brody, the accused, and his sweet daughter, Louisa. Thankfully, I was alone when I read the denoument of this lovely little middle grade tale; anyone who watched while I was reading would surely have wondered how I could derive so much enjoyment (as evidenced by the broad grin on my face) out of what is obviously a children’s story. This one is pure enjoyment. It’s the story of Louisa Brody and the scrape she finds herself in when her loving and upstanding father is accused of stealing miscellaneous items belonging to their nearest and only neighbors, the Smirches. Strangely enough, the Smirches take Louisa in since her ma is dead and there’s no one else around to take care of her. Louisa suffers at the hands of Mrs. Smirch, both from her constant berating and the soup ladle she wields as a multipurpose tool for whatever tasks she deems necessary. Louisa and the Smirch’s niece, Jessamine, have the beginnings of a budding friendship when things go south for Louisa in a hurry and she runs away from the Smirches. She has to rescue her pa! Things get complicated, though, when Louisa finds that there’s something living in the hazlenut grove where she takes refuge, and the something isn’t an animal. And it’s not exactly a person–well, not a human person. That’s where the fairytale and the prairie tale collide. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but let me say that this is the happiest little tale in which the good guys win, the villains get their (very gentle) comeuppances, and the Wee Folk in the tale also get to live happily ever after. It’s one of those books you close with a contented sigh.
Okay, are you sold on it yet? How about a few quotes to whet your appetite? I think this is one of the best descriptions I’ve ever read:
The Fletcher bailiff was old Amos Pinker, who spent most of his time playing corncob checkers on the porch of Jed Button’s general store. He spruced up for his courthouse duties by washing the tobacco juice off his bare feet and combing a handful of lard into his hair. As his hair was decidedly sparse on top, his generous hand with the lard resulted in a shiny pate streaked with clumped strands that lay in greasy parallel formation from his wrinkled brow to the nape of his neck. Judge Callahan was fond of old Amos. He was fond of anyone who took his work seriously, and Amos–on those infrequent occasions when work actually confronted him–met it with a most serious vigor indeed. (166)
And here’s one for us classical homeschoolers:
The judge noticed several members of the jury forrowing their brows. One of the perils of a classical education, he often reflected, was a predilection for vocabulary of an obfuscating nature. (168)
I was already a Melissa Wiley fan, having followed her homeschooling and bookish blog for a long while. However, I had never read one of her books! (For the record, Lulu has, since Melissa is the author of the Martha and Charlotte books. Of course.) I’m now an even bigger fan, and I’m putting The Prairie Thief in my girls’ hands this very week. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Simon & Schuster, 2012)