One of the biggest struggles of an English teacher in a Catholic school is to find literature that both intrigues and interests the students while it supports the values and morals of the Catholic Church. This past year, I had the priviledge of finding just such a book. Written by Catholic author Rosemary McDunn, The Green Coat: A Tale from the Dust Bowl Years grabbed the students' attention from the very beginning and never let go. What added to my delight was the parent feedback that I received. Never before in my ten years as a middle school teacher did I have parents write notes to me expressing their pleasure in a reading selection. The Green Coat apparently grabbed the parents' interest as they investigated the book that had captured their child's interest. I had a winner. Or, I should say, Rosemary McDunn has a winner!
Mrs. McDunn's historical fiction is set in the 1930's dust bowl and focuses on Tressa and her older brother Will. The family has lost everything and life is about to change in ways unimaginable. Tressa and Will are forced to move in with another family as their own parents struggle to eke out a living in a far-away town. That is the first of many masterful techniques that Mrs. McDunn employs: giving us a story with characters both male and female readers can empathize with and root for. As the story evolves, Mrs. McDunn continues to enrapture the reader with her masterful use of dialogue and when we hear Tressa say, "I remember Ma once said that too much of a good thing could be a bad thing. If life comes too easily, a body might never learn how to deal with trials and tribulations," we feel that we are right in the room with her. We begin to understand how life's circumstances have made this young girl and her brother grow in ways we admire and we tentatively imagine what we would do in the same circumstances. Would we persevere? Would we have the strength to remain hopeful?
Older brother Will ultimately becomes the shoulder that Tressa cries on but also helps her put things in perspective. He reminds her that their parents are also hurting and that her letters to them filled with sadness and despair can only be bringing them more pain. He helps us realize that it isn't always about us, but there is a greater good we are all called to serve.
Along with characters we quickly learn to love and dialogue that takes us right to the heart of the tale, Mrs. McDunn's use of descriptive language is a triumph. When we read that "We scrambled to cover the windows and stuff rags in the cracks under the doors. Yet, our efforts were in vain. The dirt slipped through even the smallest of openings and settled in like an unwanted guest," we, too, can feel the grit in our teeth and imagine it on our clothes. We feel pity at the young babies who suffer from dust pneumonia and find ourselves praying with Tressa as she cooks with her "prayer pot." When rain finally comes, our hearts are jubilant even as the initial downpour of pelting mud requires everyone to run for shelter.
Lisa Hendey of http://www.catholicmom.com/ says in her five star review, "A quiet stream of spirituality runs throughout The Green Coat as Tressa develops an active prayer life, calling on God to help her overcome what she feels are insurmountable obstacles. Ultimately, Tressa learns to draw on her own reserves of strength to endure and ultimately triumph in her newfound circumstances. What follows is a wonderful coming of age tale where life lessons are learned, tragedies are overcome, and lifelong friendships are forged."
For families looking for a great summer read for their children, The Green Coat is a sure winner. For educators and home-schoolers searching for a book to compliment an English or Social Studies curriculum, Mrs. McDunn concludes the book with ten pages of vocabulary and literary technique focuses found in the book. Either way, The Green Coat: A Tale from the Dust Bowl Years is a breath of fresh air! It is available on Amazon and at www.bezalelbooks.com.