Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Blue-Eyed Daisy by Cynthia Rylant

Ellie Farley, a blue-eyed and fair-haired 11-year-old girl, lives with her family in West Virginia. Ellie's father, Okey, has not worked for many years due to his coal mining accident - resulting in his staying home and developing an addiction to alcohol. With the need for companionship, Okley brings home a dog for his family, a beagle, in which they name Bullet. Ellie finds Bullet to be a dear friend to her, and it is through the addition of this faithful friend that Ellie, Okley, and Bullet spend quality time together hunting.

Ellie's life in West Virginia includes many life changing events that result in feelings of sadness, happiness, and confusion. In the beginning, her Uncle Joe leaves for war. "Ellie thought the world of her Uncle Joe. At school in the fall she had told her friends about her uncle who'd gone to war. One boy told her what his father said about the war. He told her his father said it was stupid. That soldiers were dying for nothing. That it wasn't even a real war. The told told Ellie that it must mean her uncle was not a real solder. Ellie shoved him into the wall. And she called him one of Okey's best cuss words. The boy was so surprised he didn't even fight back--just stared at her with his mouth hanging open. 'It seemed, after that, the time would never pass quickly enough until Joe came home. Ellie missed him, but more than that, she wanted him to tell her that he had been a real soldier." One he returned, Ellie watched him. "He looked older than Okey. Old as her grandfather. And when news of the war had finished, he wiped a hand across his eyes. That night Ellie cried tears for her Uncle as well as all the rest of the real soldiers.

As a young girl approaching her teenage years, Ellie experiences her first kiss with a round of spin-the-bottle with Harold at her friend Carolyn's birthday party in the section titled A Lovely Night. "Ellie was dizzy for the rest of the party. her insides were floating and she found she couldn't take her eyes off Harold. She hoped they'd play another kissing game, but everyone wanted to dance."

Ellie also describes the terrifying moment in geography class when she witnesses classmate Harvey have a "fit" which she later learns is a seizure. "So she surprised him-and herself, and especially Carolyn-when she invited him to sith with the two of them at lunch. Carolyn wasn't talking and Harvey was still shy, so Ellie talked the whole time about Bullet." "Ellie never before had such a lovely night."

In one of the final sections titled The Accident, her father Okey drives over a mountain after drinking his whiskey at the Stardust Tavern. "They all knew it would happen sooner or later, They knew Okey would drink one glass of whiskey too many and not make it home one night." "Okey was not dead, he was unconscious, his condition was critical, he was fighting for his life, their mother said-but he was not dead." As her family comforted one another during this trying time, Ellie turned to praying for her father, hoping he would be okay. And the next morning, he was in stable condition. Ellie cried.

Cynthia Rylant's realistic fiction story incorporates many of her childhood experiences. After reading many of her picture books and her autobiography, it is evident that many of her personal events are reflected in each of her books. In A Blue-Eyed Daisy, Rylant is similar to Ellie in the manner that she, too, lived in West Virginia and her father was an alcoholic. While Rylant did not live with her father again after the age of 4 once her parents separated, she longed to reunite with her father and have an official good-bye before he left the world. Ellie and Rylant also had the same first kiss while playing spin-the-bottle, and went through a religious period while living in "The Bible Belt" and often turned to God in her times of need. Rylant also had to deal with her Uncle going off to war, just as Ellie yearned for his return home.

A lot happens to Ellie throughout a span of a year - she deals with moments of tension, sadness, perplexion, and apprehension; however, it is through her friendships, family, and strong spirit that carries her through to her 12th birthday. As a reader, you feel these emotions right along with her, as if you are living through those experiences.

Rylant never ceases to amaze me. Reading her stories is like putting the pieces to a puzzle together, and her subtle clues and hints in each story give the reader a sense of discovery as an "ahhh-hah" moment is creatively woven into each one of her pieces of literature.

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