VOYAAfter eighth grade, fourteen-year-old Matty Harris's heart is set on attending Platt Rogers Spencer's seminary to study penmanship and business. She would prepare for the business world, something unheard of for a woman in 1853. Not only does her widowed mother oppose Matty's plans, but she also insists that Matty must marry a widower with seven small children. With the aid of her understanding older brother, Abe, Matty instead travels from Michigan to Ashtabula, Ohio, where she is accepted into Spencer's seminary on a trial basis. The only female student, Matty faces constant harassment from the other students, and her performance suffers, making things difficult for the impatient Matty. Fortunately, her life is brightened by the cheerfulness and love that permeate the Spencer family and by the romantic attention of Phineas, a likeable, spirited fellow student. When Abe needs her immediate assistance nursing their sick mother and young brother, Matty must leave the seminary. During her stay, however, she has matured, mastering her impatience, becoming more understanding of others, and accepting responsibility. Although readers do not know if her future includes work at the Spencerian Business College, they do know that this plucky, determined girl will be successful. Donaldson has created a delightful story by intertwining fact with fiction. Her use of Spencer, the father of American penmanship, is particularly interesting. While showing the difficulties faced by a woman determined to enter a "man's career," Donaldson skillfully weaves in themes of abolitionism and the temperance movement. The short, well-paced chapters, admirable heorine in Matty, believable secondary characters, andlively writing style create a welcome addition to the growing body of historical fiction for teens. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, Holiday House, 176p. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Bill Mollineaux VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
School Library Journal - School Library JournalGr 4-6-Not wanting to become a teacher, one of the few professions open to a 19th-century woman, or to be married off to a widower with seven children, 14-year-old Matty runs away. From her farm home in the Michigan woods, she flees to Ohio and applies to Platt Rogers Spencer's school to study penmanship and to learn business skills. Accepted into the program on a trial basis and embraced by Spencer's wife and children, Matty learns what it is like to be part of a loving, caring family. She endures the constant teasing of the boys, struggling to form perfect shapes with her pen. Donaldson skillfully weaves actual historical fact into her fiction, featuring the unusual life of the man whose name was a household word in his time. Recognizable flourishes from this master of the now-unappreciated art of penmanship grace some of the pages. This novel shows promise, though the writing doesn't always flow smoothly. However, Matty is a resourceful heroine and young readers will relate to her determination to take control of her life.-Robin L. Gibson, Perry County District Library, New Lexington, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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