________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 19. . . .January 17, 2014


Mama’s Going to Buy You a Mockingbird. (Puffin Classics).

Jean Little.
Toronto, ON: Puffin/ Penguin Canada, 1984/2013.
243 pp., trade pbk., $8.99.
ISBN 978-0-14-318787-5.

Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.

Review by Aileen Wortley.

**** /4



"Let me have the flashlight," his father said.

Jeremy passed it over. Dad turned it on, to the low beam and, shielding half of the light with his hand, he shone it up into the tree above them.

"Look," he whispered."Look hard. There were two of them but one went swooping off while your mother was getting you. Can you see it?"

Jeremy knew it must be a bird. He and his father were always on the lookout for birds. Today on the way to the store he had seen a goldfinch, a brown thrasher and two cedar waxwings. But up there, there was nothing. Nothing but a...well. it looked like a small bundle of something roundish. It reminded him of Pooh Bear sitting on the branch waiting to be rescued by...

Then, without warning, he saw two eyes open, two huge golden eyes. He had never in his life seen such round eyes. Dad shone the light full up at the owl then, but Jeremy never did see more than those magical orbs of black and gold, for the owl unfurled itself, became a winged darkness and was gone. Just as Jeremy was beginning to breathe again, certain it was all over, he heard the bird give a call, a funny irritated, not unfriendly "Hoot."

"Oh Dad," he whispered, "it really hooted. I thought it was like pigs saying 'Oink' or dogs saying 'Bow-wow' but it wasn't. It said, 'Hoot.' I thought..."

"I know," his father said and drew his son close against him, heedless of the waterfall the owl had shaken down on them when it took flight.


Readers meet Jeremy and his little sister as they vacation at the family cottage with their Aunt Margery while their parents stay in town for their father's surgery. From overhearing furtive conversations and sensing a general anxiety, they intuitively suspect the seriousness of the situation. Their father has cancer and, as time elapses, it is apparent he will not recover. In the brief time they have together, Jeremy's father, always his best friend, is able to provide Jeremy with several small legacies of thoughtfulness. These eventually provide Jeremy with strength to get through the darkest times. One of the legacies is a request that Jeremy befriend Tess, an eccentric misfit at school. Despite her idiosyncrasies, Tess has strength and integrity born of her own losses. Initially, Jeremy is uncomfortable about this friendship, but it becomes a source of satisfaction and understanding that helps them both.

     For over fifty years, Jean Little has been lauded with dozens of well-deserved accolades and thousands of superlatives for her rich contribution to children's literature. In Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird, Little’s gifts are reflected through her superb crafting of her protagonist, Jeremy, who struggles to rise above the limitations of his age and experience to find hope and altruism in terrible times. With deft economy, Little is able to reflect every innuendo of Jeremy's inner feelings during his father's illness and subsequent death without being maudlin or sentimental. Her supporting cast of characters are equally authentic, complete with strengths and foibles, each coming alive through the adroit and frugal use of Little's pen. This new edition of a much loved and acclaimed title includes a heartfelt introduction by Kelley Armstrong, acclaimed author of “The Darkest Powers” and “Otherworld” series who had read and loved Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird as a teen. Other enhancements found in this edition include a thoughtful new cover from award-winning illustrator Isabelle Arsenault, a succinct author profile, a glossary of characters, suggestions for discussion and thought, and some practical things to do inspired by the story.

     Engrossing and honest, Mama's Going to Buy You a Mockingbird is a tale of internal conflict and vulnerability, a novel which deals with tragic circumstances in a forthright manner, but one which somehow creates a sense of hope in the reader. With its realistic emotion, direct dialogue and selection of believable characters, it is as fresh and compelling today as it was when it won the Canadian Library Association Children's Literature Award in 1984. A must-read for those aged nine to fourteen.

Highly Recommended.

Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian from Toronto, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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