The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis is the story of Deza (pronounced Dezz-ah) Malone. It is 1936, Deza is twelve years old and lives with her parents and older brother, Jimmie, in Gary, Indiana. As the story opens Deza is hard at work on her final English essay for school. Deza consistently earns the highest grades in her class, loves reading and writing and has aspirations to be a writer herself.
She is crushed when the last day of school does not go according to her plan, though it soon takes another turn which brings her unexpected joy thanks to her devoted teacher. Her joy is short-lived.
Deza’s family–like so many others–is struggling to survive during the Great Depression. After a horrific accident, Deza’a father travels back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, thinking he’ll have more work opportunities there and then he can send for his family. When he doesn’t return Deza, Jimmie and their mother follow him to Flint.
Throughout their travels and their challenges Deza and her family are more than resilient–they shine. The Mighty Miss Malone is an extraordinary work by an incredibly talented author. It is about people, our relationships, our struggles and our triumphs. Deza–christened The Mighty Miss Malone by her alliteration-loving father–is mighty in deed, thought and spirit.
Because the Malone family is African-American at a time in the United States when racism was still unapologetically blatant, Deza’a perspective is unique in children’s literature. Her voice is clear, genuine and inspiring for all readers.
This is a great independent read for upper elementary, middle and high school students. It is absolutely appropriate for middle elementary as well, but will probably require guidance in the form of explanation regarding shantytowns, the Great Depression and segregation.