Train tracks run just a block from my childhood home. Growing up, we crossed them many times, often stopping to put an ear by the track to listen for any coming trains. When a train did pass by, we waited to wave to the caboose. Never could I have imagined someone jumping from a moving train, especially not a young girl. Abilene Tucker is a twelve-year-old girl who waits "till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat" jumps just before getting to Manifest, Kansas in 1936. She was used to jumping, was not always a paying customer, and clearly had experience with trains. If she had rolled to a stop in the weeds near my house, I would probably have been frightened. Because she appeared in the pages of Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, I kept turning to learn more about this brave girl.
Abilene is resourceful, skeptical, fiercely independent, and guarded. Yet she trusts people she has never met, especially Hattie Mae Harper (back in 1917)/Hattie Mae Macke, of the Manifest Herald and Shady Howard, the sometimes preacher with whom she is supposed to stay while Gideon, her father, works a railroad job in Iowa. As Abilene meets townspeople and learns their stories (through face-to-face interactions, from history divined by Miss Sadie and by reading old copies of "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary), she forms a picture of Gideon's life and a place for herself.
I loved this book so much I selected it as one of my top five of 2011 for the Children's Literature Network's Books for Breakfast event next weekend, even before it won the Newbery Medal.