The Next Fine Dayby Elizabeth Yates
Each spring for hundreds of years, the herons have returned to Chilham, England, but only now have they become important to Kent. Their departure this fall marks the beginning of a new life for his mother, who has closed her heart to love, and for Kent, who thinks of himself as Nobody.
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Eleven-year-old Kent Conner lives with his mother Maidey in the small village of Chilham where each spring, for hundreds of year, the herons have returned. It is in southern England, on the River Stour in the county of Kent, not far from Canterbury where Maidey works as a housekeeper. His father, also named Kent Conner, was an American serviceman from Virginia who was stationed at Lympne in England, married Maidey, and then was killed in an accident when Kent was just four. As a result of their loss, Maidey has closed her heart to love and Kent, though he does well in school, thinks of himself as Nobody. Mr. Conner’s body is buried in the local churchyard, but Maidey never goes there. Then, one fall, into their lives comes an artist named John Rivven, who has moved into Beekeep, a formerly vacant cottage in Chilham. He meets Kent when the boy is walking home from school and starts telling him all kinds of stories about the herons, the ancient Britons, and the local mulberry trees which were the source for mulberry trees planted in Virginia. He keeps asking Kent to meet him again “the next fine day.” Later he invites Kent and Maidey to share Christmas dinner with him. After the first of the year, John leaves to follow the herons to Africa but promises to return. Maidey receives a mysterious letter from him and begins talking about quitting her job and moving away from Chilham. Following that she becomes very ill. Why did Maidey react to the letter in the way she did? What will happen to her and Kent? And when the herons return, will they bring good fortune or bad? We dearly love the books of Elizabeth Yates (December 6, 1905 – July 29, 2001). We have read her 1951 Newbery Medal winner Amos Fortune, Free Man, along with Sarah Whitcher’s Story, Patterns on the Wall (or The Journeyman), and Hue and Cry. I also want to read her Mountain Born, Carolina’s Courage, and With Pipe, Paddle, and Song. I recall seeing an interview with her prior to her death, I think in Homeschooling Today magazine; I believe that her daughter homeschooled her children. Besides the fact that The Next Fine Day is a wonderful story that is told remarkably well, I liked the fact that the Conners are said to attend church services. Also, John Riven reminds Kent that “The heron is part of an ancient pattern given us by the Creator” and that “God fitted them into nature’s plan and linked them with the orderly procedure.”