Fly Away

Fly Away

by Patricia MacLachlan

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From the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall comes a story about one brave girl who saves her family from losing everything.

Everyone in Lucy’s family sings. Opera. Rap. Lullabies. Everyone, except Lucy. Lucy can’t sing; her voice just won’t come out.

Just like singing, helping Aunt Frankie prepare for flooding

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From the Newbery Award–winning author of Sarah, Plain and Tall comes a story about one brave girl who saves her family from losing everything.

Everyone in Lucy’s family sings. Opera. Rap. Lullabies. Everyone, except Lucy. Lucy can’t sing; her voice just won’t come out.

Just like singing, helping Aunt Frankie prepare for flooding season is a family tradition—even if Frankie doesn’t want the help. And this year, when the flood arrives, danger finds its way into the heart of Lucy’s family, and Lucy will need to find her voice to save her brother.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/27/2014
As she did in recent younger middle-grade titles including The Truth of Me and Kindred Souls, MacLachlan again demonstrates a gift for combining an economy of prose with a bounty of emotion. Lucy’s family is traveling by VW bus to visit her eccentric Aunt Frankie in North Dakota. An aspiring poet, Lucy insists that she can’t sing, an anomaly in her musical family. Her farmer father loves opera as much as he loves cows; her mother is devoted to musician Langhorne Slim; younger sister Gracie sings in a clear, high voice; and baby Teddy can’t yet talk, but substitutes “la la la” for lyrics of songs he sings to Lucy each night. “Teddy has music but no words,” says Lucy. “I have words but no music. We are a strange pair.” Though the family’s strong bonds are the heart of this novel, MacLachlan includes some nerve-wracking drama, too: a river overflows, threatening to flood Aunt Frankie’s house, and Teddy disappears in the deluge. As befits a story in which words and music play such a central role, MacLachlan’s writing is melodic, poetic, and enchanting. Ages 7–up. (Apr.)
starred review Bulletin
* "Quiet and tender, this is a story that audiences will wish took longer to read."
"An inviting choice..."
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
Lucy, younger sister Grace, and two-year old brother Teddy are heading to Nebraska for the summer with their parents. They always go back to their mom’s family farm, now run by elderly Aunt Frankie, to help out for a while. They are just ahead of some serious weather, traveling in a VW van with three chickens, hoping to arrive before the rising waters of the Red River cut them off. They make it just in time, and begin to help Aunt Frankie move grain and livestock from the shed on a lower part of the farm to a higher shelter. They also move things from the first to the second floor of the old farmhouse as the river continues to encroach. In her family, there is some concern that Teddy has not started to talk yet, but Lucy is not worried; for, Lucy is the unique recipient of secret nightly visits by Teddy as he comes to sing to her, in perfect pitch but without words. Lucy knows all the words, and in fact secretly wants to be a poet, but she cannot carry a tune. When the floodwaters begin to recede, everyone relaxes a bit, only to be confronted by a new crisis. Teddy has wandered off from the barn where he was helping his mom, and cannot be found. As they widen the search, Aunt Frankie exhorts Lucy to sing Teddy’s song, in hopes that he will respond to her voice; Frankie knows about Teddy’s late night serenades but has kept the secret until now. Lucy sings, Teddy hears her and is rescued from a precarious perch in a swollen creek. One of Lucy’s “throw away” poems about a beautiful cow is discovered by her dad and read aloud. Lucy is acknowledged for her writing skills and the family reconnects more closely when several family members also reveal secrets. This is a touching story of what it means to be family, and would be a wonderful read aloud in elementary classrooms. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D.; Ages 7 to 12.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-02-12
Filled with little moments of quiet wisdom and gentle humor, Newbery winner MacLachlan's story about family love soars. Lucy is the only member of her family who cannot sing. Everyone else—her father, her mother, and her younger sister, Grace—sings on pitch. Even her toddler brother, Teddy, who does not yet talk, sings—although only Lucy knows this, as Teddy sings to her secretly each night. But while Lucy cannot sing (she thinks), she is planning to be a poet, and as she and her family journey across the Minnesota prairie in an old Volkswagen bus and arrive at her aunt's home on the Red River in North Dakota, she composes poems, hoping to write one for her father that is "as beautiful as a cow." (Her father loves cows.) The story, told in first person by Lucy, is ostensibly simple. But in the hands of MacLachlan, simple becomes sparely elegant, and the narrative unfolds to reveal a world of secrets, strengths, fears, and aspirations both relinquished and recovered, with a frisson of tension that rises as the Red River floods. The climax, when it comes, is less of a nail-biter and more of a warm, cozy blanket of love and support—and readers won't mind one bit. A story that never cloys, succeeding on all levels. (Fiction. 6-10)
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—The saying "blood is thicker than water" has never been truer than in this contemporary tale of family devotion. In an old Volkswagen van, Lucy and her family, along with a few cherished chickens, are on a road trip. They are headed to North Dakota to defend her Aunt Frankie's farm from a swelling river. Eschewing most modern conveniences, the family's days are filled with nature, music, and poetry. Young Lucy possesses a raw talent for writing, yet she feels at a loss since she "can't sing" and she covets a melodious voice like the ones she hears everyday-in the operas, blues, and sweet melodies sung by her two-year-old brother, Teddy, who doesn't talk but secretly sings to Lucy. The beauty of this tale is in how the family unites against the swollen river. Lucy discovers that while her song is not the most beautiful, it can be tremendously powerful. This is a flawless introduction to the power of words. Written in simple prose, this lyrically written story offers a moving leitmotif that will stay with readers long after the last page. A must-have.—Sada Mozer, Los Angeles Public Library

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Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.00(d)
490L (what's this?)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Fly Away

  • We drive across the Minnesota prairie in our old tan and green Volkswagen bus. My father does not believe in new cars. He loves the old Volkswagen with the top that pops up like a tent. He can take the motor apart and fix it himself.

    In the way back are neat wooden framed beds for sleeping. In a pen are Mama’s chickens: Ella, Sofia, and Nickel. Mama loves them and never goes away for long without them. My younger sister, Grace, sits in her car seat next to me. In back of her is Teddy, the youngest, with his stuffed beaver.

    My father, called Boots because he wears them, is driving, listening to opera on the radio. It is La Traviata.

    Misterioso, misterioso altero . . .

    I know it well. If a conductor dropped dead on stage I could climb up there and conduct.

    Now here is something abnormal. I can’t sing. When I open my mouth nothing happens. I know the music, but I can’t sing it. I can only conduct it.

    My father went to Harvard. His parents expected him to be a banker like his father. In secret he planned to be a poet.

    But then he discovered cows. He became a farmer.

    He loves cows.

    “They are poetry, Lucy,” he tells me. “I can’t write anything better than a cow.”

    Maggie, my mother in the front seat, wears headphones. I know she is listening to Langhorne Slim. She loves Langhorne Slim as much as my father loves opera. And I know her secret. She would like to sing like Langhorne Slim. She would like to be Langhorne Slim.

    If you’ve got worries, then you’re like me.

    Don’t worry now, I won’t hurt you.

    My younger sister, Gracie, ignores the opera and my mother’s bopping around in the front seat. Gracie sings in a high perfect voice, fluttering her hands like birds.

    “The birdies fly away, and they come back home.

    The birdies fly away, and they come back home.”

    I turn and look at my little brother, Teddy. He smiles at me and I know what that smile is all about.

    In his small head he is singing the “Fly Away” chorus in private so no one can hear.

    Fly away, fly away,

    All the birdies fly away.

    I smile back at him.

    This is our secret because Teddy wants it that way.

    I have known for a long time that Teddy can sing perfectly in tune even though he is not yet two. We all know he doesn’t speak words yet. But only Teddy and I know that he sings. He doesn’t sing the words, but sings every song with “la la la.” He sings to me every night, climbing out of his bed, padding into my room in the dark. He sings a peppy “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” ending with a “Yay” at the end with his hands in the air.

    “La La La La



    He sings a soft, quiet “All the Pretty Horses.” “La, la, la.”

    I made a mistake once and told them all—Boots, Mama, and Gracie—that Teddy can sing. They didn’t believe me. And of course Teddy wouldn’t sing for them. Only for me.

    “I’ve never heard Teddy sing,” says Gracie.

    “He can’t even talk yet,” says Mama. “How could he sing?”

    Teddy has music but no words.

    I have words but no music.

    We are a strange pair.

    And here is my secret: I am planning to be a poet. I have written thirty-one and a half poems. Some are bad. They are bad hideaway poems. I plan to get better and publish better poems and buy Mama more chickens and take Boots to see La Traviata at the opera house in New York City, wherever New York City is.

    When I get to be a poet Boots will be pleased.

    He will be proud.

    And one day, for him, I will write a poem as beautiful as a cow.

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