Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth by Sandra Dutton

Summary/Cover Image from the Publisher's Website:

Ten-year-old Mary Mae loves to sing hymns with her Granny, go to Sunday School, and learn about trilobites. She has lots of questions about how the earth looked millions of years ago. Trouble is, Mary Mae's mother thinks it's wrong to believe the world is that old. Mama believes God created it six thousand years ago and she believes that nobody should teach Mary Mae otherwise. When Mary Mae starts taking her questions to church, asking how God created the earth in six days or how eight people could take care of animals on an ark, Mama puts her foot down: homeschooling. Mary Mae must decide where her loyalties lie: with science and Miss Sizemore, with God and Mama, or somewhere in the middle.


When I first received this one for review I was bit hesitant to pick it up, I have to admit. Though, recently I finally did give it a chance, and let me tell you I'm so glad I did, because Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is a cute book about standing up for your beliefs no matter what.

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth tells the story of Mary Mae, a curious and sweet girl ten-year-old who has a love of learning, signing church hymns with her grandmother, and attending her Sunday school class with her friends. But her world is suddenly turned upside down when Mary Mae's very religious mother disagrees with what her daughter is learning in class, leaving her to have only one choice, well at least in her mind: homeschooling. As you can probably imagine Mary Mae is disgruntled at the thought of not only spending all day at home without her friends but at the fact of not being allowed to learn about her favorite subject, science. So now it's up to Mary Mae to stand up for what she believes in and convince her family that learning about science and fossils is okay.

Mary Mae was such a sweet girl; I loved the fact that never ceased to stand up for what she believed in, as well as her love of learning. It was always a lot of fun to see her go through her daily live, stirring up trouble because of what she believed in. I also thought Sandra Dutton did a great job of creating Mary Mae's character because she was exactly like any ten year-old I've seen. Another favorite character of mine would have to Mary Mae's granny. She was funny and I loved the fact that she always supported Mary Mae's discoveries.

The plot of this moved in a rapid speed and never failed to be interesting, which allowed me to finish this book in one quick sitting. I also enjoyed the questions it placed in my mind about religion and whether or not parents should get such a big say in their children's learning; it definitely was an interesting premise.

Though, the one thing that kind of appalled me was the fact that Dutton choose to use bad grammar to tell Mary Mae's story in. I understand that Mary Mae is a ten year-old and tends to talk that way because she probably doesn’t have a through understanding of grammar, but I just thought it set such a bad precedent of speaking for the middle-grade set who will be picking this book up.

Regardless, Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is a sweet and easy-going book that I enjoyed.

Grade: B

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is now out!

Source: Publisher. Thanks, Houghton Mifflin!


  1. Great review. This book does look intriguing.

  2. Dear Lauren,

    Thank you for your nice review. I’m glad you admired Mary Mae’s curiosity and tenacity and that you also liked Granny. It’s always nice for a writer to hear that her characters are appreciated. You add, however, that you did not care for Mary Mae’s use of “bad grammar” which you say “does not set a good example for middle grade students.” I would like to respond to your objections.

    Mary Mae speaks the way her family, from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, speaks. She speaks a dialect thick with double negatives and phrases such as “he come” and “they was.” This speech was (and is) spoken by many Appalachian people in my hometown of Norwood, Ohio. I used it for this story because I love the poetry of the language and because it tells Mary Mae’s story better than standard English ever could. To show you what I mean, I’ll quote my opening paragraph and then change it into standard English:

    “Stomping, jumping, I’m a-singing away. Me and Granny’s up here at the microphone, Granny on guitar, double strumming, foot tapping, urging everyone on for the chorus.”

    Now for standard English:

    “Grandmother and I sang together at the front of the church. Grandmother strummed the guitar and tapped her foot. She asked everyone to join her on the chorus.”

    The second version lacks the color and urgency of the first, the sound of a real individual with her own view of things, of phrases that connote knowledge of music such as “Granny on guitar” and “double strumming.” I think young readers deserve the best, so I use dialect where it best tells the story. I also believe that it’s good for children to become acquainted with other cultures, and one of the best ways is to read stories in authentic language. You mentioned you were concerned about children reading “bad grammar.” I would not worry about this if I were you. Children’s speech patterns are well established before middle school, and no child was ever corrupted by reading Huckleberry Finn. More tragic would be to miss out on such a book.

    Rules for fiction are different from rules in a grammar book. A story may or may not be told in standard English. The author may choose, as I did, to tell a story in the authentic speech of her characters. Indeed, stories in dialect are especially good for middle school students, who need to see that the world is broader than their own little neighborhood.

    It’s also nice for a child like Mary Mae to discover herself in a book of fiction, to see her speech being celebrated.

    Again, I’m happy that you enjoyed my story, and I enjoyed the description of your books stacked on books. You’re the kind of reader I love to hear from.

    Sandra Dutton


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