Flying South

Flying South

by Laura Malone Elliott

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In the sticky-hot summer of 1968, a year in American history marked by assassinations, Vietnam War protests, and civil rights rioting, Alice faces some trying concerns of her own. Alice longs for a connection with her mother, who is beautiful but distant, caught up in the search for a husband who will help erase the memory of Alice's father. Alice's friendship with


In the sticky-hot summer of 1968, a year in American history marked by assassinations, Vietnam War protests, and civil rights rioting, Alice faces some trying concerns of her own. Alice longs for a connection with her mother, who is beautiful but distant, caught up in the search for a husband who will help erase the memory of Alice's father. Alice's friendship with Bridget, a tennis-playing Twiggy, introduces her to competitiveness and the shallow pettiness of spoiled rich girls, as as well as to the prejudice that many Americans still feel toward black people.

It is Alice's friendship with Doc, the family gardener and handyman, that continually brings her back to the truths that will shape the decsions in her life. Doc reminds Alice that life is about "passing the test" -- doing what's right.

Flying South celebrates a young girl's coming-of-age in a delicate, moving narrative that sings with the understated, yet resonate, pleasures of life in the American South.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
In Flying South, Alice acts on the lessons she learns by watching the people around her like the roses in her garden and passes "the test" of standing up for what she believes in. Alice is a vulnerable and rather naïve eleven year old Virginian in the summer of 1968, who has been raised more by the black housekeeper Edna and white gardener Doc, than by her mother who plays tennis at the country club as she pursues a future husband. Alice, her mother, and Doc, and even her new friend Bridget are well-rounded characters. Only Edna seems one-dimensional. The details of Charlottesville in 1968, the changing roles of women and blacks, Alice's courage, and her mother's are moving and ring true in the quiet, satisfying novel. 2003, HarperCollins,
— Susie Wilde
In the summer of 1968, ten-year-old Alice becomes aware of the world with the help of Doc, the family gardener who cares for the roses and chases errant woodchucks, and through Edna, the housekeeper who has worked for the family since Alice's mother was little. Alice, who gets along better with adults, is forced to be friendly with the niece of Mr. Barker, a man her mother is dating. She thinks if she could improve her tennis game, perhaps her mother would notice her. Through a series of incidents that culminate when Alice encourages a black woman and her daughter to eat in a restaurant, the prejudice felt by Mr. Barker and others is made evident. When Mr. Barker asks Alice's mother to marry him, Alice stands up to him, hoping that her mother will have the courage to do the right thing. This quiet look at the late '60s is seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old who is not quite connected with the time. The assassinations during the sixties are mentioned as well as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam protests. Alice's mother, usually out playing tennis at the country club or socializing with a new beau, is distant until the end of the book when she is forced to choose between the way she is viewed by society and by her daughter. Readers who prefer quieter, more thoughtful stories such as Kimberly Willis Holt's My Louisiana Sky (Henry Holt, 1998/VOYA August 1998) or Jennifer Holm's My Only May Amelia (HarperCollins, 1999) will enjoy this book. PLB
— Cindy Faughnan <%ISBN%>0060012145
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-With curiosity and introspection, Alice, 10, recounts one summer's everyday events. She and her widowed mother live near Charlottesville, VA, on the estate that Grace inherited from her parents. While the fashionable, distracted woman seeks the attentions of a well-heeled politician, her daughter soaks up the kindness, wisdom, and affection of the elderly staff-Doc, the gardener, and Edna, the cook. Helping Doc tend the magnificent roses, Alice learns the importance of appreciating differences, protecting others, and standing tall for what you believe. When he has a stroke, she realizes she is saying good-bye to her best friend. Political events of 1968 create a backdrop for the inner turmoil the child experiences and the values she possesses. This spunky, talkative, compassionate girl occasionally seems wiser than her self-absorbed mother and is surprisingly tolerant, acquiescing to such demands as sitting through tedious formal dinners with Grace and her beau. However, when the pompous, bullying suitor threatens Alice while proposing marriage, maternal instincts surface; Grace rejects his offer and recognizes the character and strength in her daughter. This is both a poignant mother-daughter story and a comforting tale of the affection between a lonely young girl and an irascible but devoted old man. Doc's gems of insight invigorate Alice and shape her outlook on life. Readers will find poignancy, humor, and history in this story.-Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It’s the sultry summer of ’68 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Eleven-year-old April has moved back to the family homestead where she lives with her mother and the white gardener and black cook, Doc and Edna. Doc raises roses and also raises Alice and her mother, Grace. It’s hard to say what’s stronger at the beginning of the story, the smell of Doc’s roses or the heaviness of his impending death. Alice wonders about everything and works through her many questions with the thoughtful guidance of Doc and Edna and the just-in-time, tidy awakening of her mother. Elliott’s dialogue is right on target with the soft accent of the old Southern aristocracy but misses the mark when she tries to incorporate phrases like "groovy" and "can you dig it?" into the teenagers’ voices. Elliott’s sure hand explores a complicated chapter in America’s ambivalence toward race, including the attitude many white people held regarding the social changes all around them. (Fiction. 9-14)
“The foundation for cross-curricular, in-depth studies of culture, social life, literature and politics.”

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Flying South

By Laura Elliott

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Laura Elliott All right reserved. ISBN: 0060012145

Chapter One

Never forget whose grandchild you are

It was nasty hot early on last summer, the summer of 1968. As early as June, houses hummed and rattled with the constant whrrrr of window fans. The air stayed thick and humid well past sundown. it was suffocating, like spending the entire day in a steamy bathroom. Such weather makes people ornery. Doc and I got into a lot of arguments.

Our first squabble came right after school closed. The sun was already too mean for children to roll around in the yard, so I was hanging on the screen door of the back porch, watching the mockingbird divebomb our cat and waiting for Doc to come up from the garden for lunch. The screen had a soft, easy bow from years of my leaning against it. I was pushing my nose into it, to print a grid into my skin, and tasting the screen's rust with my tongue when Doc walked up through the boxwood.

"Alice, what do you think you're doing?" he snapped.

I hadn't stopped when I saw him coming. I would have stopped immediately had I seen Mama. But Doc was one of those remarkable grown-ups who respected a child's experimentation. Usually, he would have asked me what the screen tasted like. I would have answered that it tasted like cold metal with a bite.

Instead, I muttered, "Nothin'." Istepped back from the screen and opened it for him. It thwacked closed behind us.

"Don't you realize you could get tetanus from doing that? What if you cut your tongue on the wire?" He eased himself onto the whitewashed wooden bench by the kitchen table and pulled off his sweat-soaked straw hat.

"What's tenatus?" I asked.

"Tetanus. A terrible infection that can lock your jaws together and give you convulsions and make your nose fall off


"Yes, really."

I fell silent and tried to rub the screen imprint from my nose. Doc knew about these things. During World War 1, when he was a teenager, he had run off to fight in France. When the army discovered he was only sixteen years old, it put him to work in field hospitals away from the trenches and the battles. He learned a lot about infections and medicine. That's where his nickname, Doc, came from.

I was about to ask if he'd ever had tetanus when, Edna announced that lunch was ready. Edna was the lady who took care of Mama and me. She fixed our meals and kept my dresses ironed just the way I could stand them, with only a hint of starch. During the summer, she cooked lunch for Doc and me. Today, she put down bowls of chicken salad, kale, and beets. Doc had grown the vegetables in our garden. She whispered to him as she leaned over the table, "You really shouldn't tease her, Mr. McKenzie. She's just a baby, you know"

Edna sat down on the bench beside me. She smelled sweet, of vanilla and talcum powder. We all bowed our heads in silent prayer. I wished they'd say grace out loud because I never knew what to say when it was left up to me. This time, though, I asked God to keep my jaws fro In' locking together.

When Doc lifted his head, he glared at me. He didn't like getting into trouble with Edna.

Doc and Edna went way back. They had worked for my grandmother for decades. Edna had run the house while my grandmother ran the garden club and the local chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and the volunteer library league. Doc kept the gardens fruitful during the Depression. My mother had kind of inherited the responsibility for Doc and Edna, just like she had inherited our family farm deep in Virginia's .president country," the green lands rolling just east of Charlottesville, around the homes of presidents Jefferson, Monroe, and Madison.

Mama had a weird relationship with Doc and Edna. Sometimes she listened to them carefully and gratefully, like they were parents. Other times she bossed, Edna and Doc around, politely enough, I guess. Either way, she didn't seem comfortable with her role, like she had on a hand-me-down coat that itched her all over.

'Take the week before, when Bobby Kennedy had died. He was leaving a party celebrating his winning the California primary when someone walked up and shot him in the head. It was beginning to feel like anyone who talked about peace or getting along with others was going to get killed. Like Martin Luther King, Jr. They'd gunned him down in April. It was really frightening. I know I wanted all the company I could get during Bobby Kennedy's funeral. But Mama had sat, all quiet and stiff like, in the living room, watching the television news cover the service. Edna stayed in the kitchen, tuned to the radio, crying while she dried the dishes. I couldn't understand why they didn't listen to the reports together; they both seemed so sad.

Doc interrupted my ruminating.

"She should know better, Edna," Doc said as he plopped a hunk of butter onto his steaming-hot kale. It made a pretty, little pool of gold in the leafy emerald greens.

He turned to me. "What would. your grandmother have said if she had seen you looking like poor white trash, swinging on the door with your tongue hanging out? Don't ever forget whose grandchild you are. Miss Margaret was a great lady."

"Yes, sir." My goodness, he was crotchety. I didn't like it. When I was real little, my daddy had crashed and died while test-piloting a jet plane for the air force. The only thing I remember about him is a big grin and the smell of pipe tobacco. Mama spent most of her time on the tennis court now. It was important that Doc and Edna like me. Very important. I tried an old trick.

"Doc, why do birds fly south for the winter?"

Doc glanced at Edna and smiled. I had asked him this riddle at least a dozen times since I had heard it. I sup-pose he knew it was my way of trying to smooth him out.

"I don't know, Alice." His voice had gentled and his eyes smiled. "Why?"

"Because it's too far to walk."

"Hah-hah-hah-hah." Doc's old dentures slurp-slapped against his gums as he laughed.


Excerpted from Flying South by Laura Elliott
Copyright © 2003 by Laura Elliott
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Laura Malone Elliott is the author of Under a War-Torn Sky, a NCSS/CBC Notable Book in Social Studies, a Jefferson Cup Honor Book, and winner of the Borders' Original Voices Award, and its sequel, A Troubled Peace, also a NCSS/CBC Notable; Annie, Between the States, an IRA Teacher's Choice and NYPL Book for the Teen Age; Give Me Liberty; and Flying South, a Bank Street College Best Children's Book. She lives in Virginia with her family.

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