When she was in fourth grade, Natalie Babbitt, the renowned author of the classic Tuck Everlasting, decided that she wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. Even now, nearing 80, she still loves to illustrate, which is obvious from the luminous cover she created for her appealing new middle grade novel, The Moon Over High Street.
The novel takes place in the early 1960s in a small town in Ohio, the state where Babbitt was born and raised. Our hero is 12-year-old Joe Casimir, who, overnight, is suddenly presented with a chance to live the American dream. Orphaned as an infant, Joe lives with his grandmother most of the time. But when she has to enter rehab after breaking her hip, he travels by bus to stay with his Aunt Myra in Midville. By chance, he comes to the attention of an aging millionaire and Midville’s most prominent citizen: Mr. Boulderwall, inventor of the swervit (which, in case you don’t know, is essential to all engines).
Boulderwall offers to adopt the boy, provide a first-class education and make him the heir to his company. Joe is faced with a major decision about the direction he wants his life to take. Can he envision a future in an office job, or is the lure of the moon overhead and a life of discovery where his heart lies?
We don’t have to be 12 and faced with Joe’s incredible opportunity to realize that life often presents hard choices. Babbitt’s novel is not only accessible to young readers, it carries a sense of poignancy for those of us who sometimes still wonder what we’ll be when we grow up. As Babbitt notes in her epilogue, “stories don’t just stop” and the future “changes all the time.” But hopefully, like Joe, we will make decisions that come from our hearts and feel, as Joe says, “really, really good.”
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of many acclaimed books for young readers, including the recent releases Titanic: Voices From the Disaster and A Boy Called Dickens.