Make Me a Home
Bonneville Books (an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.), 2008
Allie Claybrook is a spunky eleven-year-old girl whose family has been
thrown for a loop. Her dad, who serves in the U.S. Army, has been sent
to Iraq for a year.
At the beginning of the first book, Make Me a Memory, Allie moves with
her mom and younger brother from their home near the army base in
Killeen, Texas, to Edna, Idaho, where they will live with Allie's
grandma and great-grandma ("Nanna") while Dad is away. Not that Allie is
thrilled with this move; not only is her dad gone, but she also has to
leave her home and friends and spend a year in "Hicksville" in an old
house with old people and a cranky goat. Turns out her mom is also
expecting a baby, which is exciting but also doesn't help matters any.
While life in Edna isn't exactly what Allie always wanted, she does come
to enjoy the chance to get to know her grandma, and to do her best to
get to know Nanna. Nanna has what Allie calls "Old-Timer's," and she
often becomes very confused. The idea that Nanna has lost many of her
memories, and the fact that Allie's dad is missing out on making new
ones with the family, creates an interesting scenario that Allie must
In the second book, Make Me a Home, Allie and her family are still in
Edna. The end of the school year is approaching, and they are looking
forward to Dad's return when they receive the news that he has to stay
in Iraq for another two months. Still having trouble making friends in
Edna, Allie is delighted when Ivy moves to town and joins her class as a
new student. Ivy's parents are divorced, and her mom has moved her
family to Edna so she can marry a farmer she met on the Internet.
There's also a "popular" girl who tries to cause Allie and Ivy grief.
Furthermore, Allie has recently noticed that Ivy's older brother is the
"hottest" seventh grade guy in Edna.
Both of these stories explore some painful realities that many young
readers face in their own lives. Tamra Norton has done a fabulous job of
hitting these issues head-on while keeping the story lighthearted and
avoiding excessive darkness or preaching. Allie doesn't see herself as
anything special, but she does have a great attitude and is always ready
to throw herself into whatever cause she is forced to face. And she does
learn to make the best of things, regardless of what happens. Sometimes
that's the best you can do.
The tone of the book is perfect for middle-grade readers. Allie as the
narrator brings you right in to the story:
It's not a very smart thing to spit out the window of a moving car. Of
course, I learned this the hard way. When I took the mouthful of orange
juice, I was only thinking about how thirsty I was. And tired. I'd been
sitting in a hot car all day long with that bottle of juice.
It's funny because apple juice tastes pretty good hot. And so does lemon
juice-if you add a little honey. But drinking hot orange juice is about
as much fun as drinking the last of the milk in your cereal bowl...
(Make Me a Memory, pp. 1-2; opening paragraphs of the book)
Even as Allie's world comes crashing down on her, she remains a
protagonist who young readers can relate to:
"I got a call from Daddy today." Mom's voice was soft, but sounded a
little flat. Like she didn't have any feelings left inside. From the
looks of her eyes, I had to wonder if she'd cried them all out.
"What did he say?" My heart was thumping around in my body. "Is he okay?"
"Yes, yes, yes...he's fine." As Mom hugged me, my heart thumping began
to settle down. "But he's not coming home next month."
I squirmed away from Mom's embrace and looked into those red, puffy
eyes. "But he's been gone almost a year. It's his turn to come home." My
face felt hot. I wanted to scream.
Mom could tell because she tried to pull me back into the hug. But I
didn't want one. I wanted Dad back home. That's all. I stood up and
started to leave, but Mom grabbed my hand...
I jerked my hand loose. "It's not fair."
Without closing Mom's door, I left. I didn't stop for Grandma's treats
or even to use the bathroom. I just ran up those stupid green stairs
like I'd done every day for a stupid year and threw my face into my
Stupid! (Make Me a Home, pp. 15-16)
As Allie works to make the best of her situation and to help her friend
Ivy make the best of hers, things aren't always easy for her. But she
does find ways to be happy, in spite of everything going on. These books
are appropriate for young readers, particularly those who face
situations similar to Allie's: a deployed parent, a loved one suffering
from Alzheimer's, or a move across the country. Her optimism and
resourcefulness should be contagious.