Top 100 Children’s Novels #70: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
Yes, it’s a Newbery, but I really loved it when I first read it, and I cried and cried, too. I also laughed at Salamanca’s grandparents a lot. – Libby Gorman
Creech has the amazing ability to spin a web of stories within stories, and this is one of her finest. – Heather Christensen
Well it was #68 on the previous Top 100 poll. Now it has slipped a mere two slots to #70. Back in 2001 Ms. Creech once said that “Walk Two Moons seems to be the one most frequently taught,” but there are plenty of children’s chapter books taught out there that never made it to this Top 100 list. Clearly, there’s gotta be more to it than that.
The plot as described by School Library Journal reads, “13-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle travels west with her Grams and Gramps to Lewiston, Idaho, the destination from which her mother did not return. As Sal entertains her grandparents with stories of her friend, Phoebe, who sees “lunatics” around every corner, threads from many life stories are seamlessly entwined. This pilgrimage wonderfully mirrors the journey of discovery that is adolescence, as Sal’s search for the truth about her mother becomes a journey of discovery about much more.”
We can credit the appearance of all the books on this Top 100 list to a lot of things, but this may be the first one that came about because of a message in a fortune cookie. When she was 12, Sharon and her family took a road trip that was later re-created in Walk Two Moons. That was part of her inspiration. In an interview with Reading Teacher (Feb. 1996), Ms. Creech recalled yet another: “When I began to write, I was living in England and I was missing the States. I was also missing my grown children who had just gone off to college there. I wrote Walk Two Moons from the notion of a parent/child separation, and I decided to do it from the child’s point of view. These were the kinds of things rolling around in my mind.” When asked about the structure, she gave an answer that should be heartening to those folks trying to write in today’s book economy: “Part of the way Walk Two Moons turned out was the result of the economics of publishing at the time I was writing the book. There was a recession going on in that industry [in the U.S.] and in England and editors were being very selective.” The writing was hard, her editors changed, and “I was ready to toss it into the trash–and then I got the message in the fortune cookie.” The cookie merely read: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” She had her hook. We have her book.
By the way, I rather like this statement in the same article about winning the Newbery and how it changes your life. “I still don’t know how I feel about it. It’s like someone has given me this beautiful suit of Armani clothes. Normally I would not wear them. They look nice and everyone admires them, but I’m a little uncomfortable in them. I like to wear them for brief periods of time and then change back to my blue jeans.”
When asked by Teacher Librarian (April 2001) the extent to which she places people she knows in her books, Creech confessed that, “Usually I am not aware that I am drawing on family when I am writing. It is only after a book is done that I sometimes see some of the sources. For example, it was after Walk Two Moons was published that I recognized that Gram contained pieces of my mother, grandmother and sister (goodness spiced with a little sass), and that Salamanca seemed to contain bits of my daughter and of me (lyrical, stubborn, outdoor-loving).”
In an ALAN Review article called “Popular Postmodernism for Young Adult Readers” (Spring/Summer 2002), Stephenie Yearwood says that, “this story is made of stories, by stories, and in between stories.” As a result Sal has to reinvent herself so as to handle the truth. “Sal’s past is reconsidered, remade and retold in multiple layers here; and it can emerge fully only when she has successfully constructed a new identity for herself–an identity which can face the history.” And though we wouldn’t necessarily think of this book as a mystery novel, discovering what has actually happened to Sal’s mom is something we, the readers, want to figure out.
Fun Fact: Later Ms. Creech would set her novel Chasing Redbird in the same town as Walk Two Moons (Bybanks, Kentucky).
The book won the 1995 Newbery Medal, beating out Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
- Read some of the book here.
- The page on the Sharon Creech website about the book is here.
- The Multnomah County Library system has some of the best book discussion guides you will find. Here is the one they created for Walk Two Moons.
- Use these discussion questions and activities if you like.
- Or you can use this Teacher Guide.
- The theatrical version of the book was big enough to get some attention from Variety.
- Sometimes I like children’s versions of their favorite books best.
- Though admittedly there are times when folks get a little literal (shouldn’t those feet be wearing moccasins, anyway?).
School Library Journal said of the book, “While this story-within-a-story is a potentially difficult device, in the hands of this capable author it works well to create suspense, keep readers’ interest, and draw parallels between the situations and reactions of the two girls. Sal’s emotional journey through the grieving process-from denial to anger and finally to acceptance-is depicted realistically and with feeling. Indeed, her initial confusion and repression of the truth are mirrored in the book. Overall, a richly layered novel about real and metaphorical journeys.”
Said Booklist, “The novel is ambitious and successful on many fronts: the characters, even the adults, are fully realized; the story certainly keeps readers’ interest; and the pacing is good throughout.”
Kirkus was less pleased, saying, “Creech, an American who has published novels in Britain, fashions characters with humor and sensitivity, but Sal’s poignant story would have been stronger without quite so many remarkable coincidences or such a tidy sum of epiphanies at the end. Still, its revelations make a fine yarn.”
And finally there was The Observer who said it was, “A really satisfying book – funny, poignant, cunning in the unraveling of its mysteries.”
Unlike her Love That Dog, covers of this particular Creech outing abound.
Oh, and did you know that they’re releasing a bunch of Creech’s books with new covers? Here’s the latest:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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