Of buttons, pearls, and unexpected treasures

finding fortuneNot all of us run away from home, but many of us contemplate it. I did. Somewhere around 2nd or 3rd grade, I took off with no better plan than to go over to a classmate’s house to hide out. I didn’t leave a note or take extra clothes or food. I just got mad about something – probably dusting, which I loathed – and left on my bike. Her parents probably called mine. All I remember is seeing my dad on the other side of their back fence, riding home in the truck in silence, and having to do all the dishes that night. That was punishment enough for me to never try it again.

Ren has more of a plan than I had, but it’s not much better conceived. She decides to use her babysitting money to go stay in a nearby town where there’s an old school being used as a sort of a boarding house. She takes some extra clothes and some sandwiches, and she gets her older sister to go along with the plan for a little while, backing up her story that she’s just left for a day or so to cool off. By the time the truth comes out, Ren has met too many interesting characters and has a mystery to solve, too, so we know she’ll find a way to return.

The story behind this story is one of abandoned small towns (and people) and industries that no longer exist. In this case, the fictional small town of Fortune rose and fell on making buttons from Mississippi River clams before the advent of plastic buttons. Were there real button-making towns along the Mississippi? There were. Delia Ray weaves the past into Ren’s story, making it real through the older characters’ memories, photographs found in boxes, and piles of shells with holes in them.

This is one of my favorite ways to learn history – the facts and feelings of real people live on in these fictional characters. For kids, it’s a way to find out about some of the surprising and wonderful parts of our past, particularly if the story is an engaging one — as it is here.

Finding Fortune by Delia Ray. Delia Ray is an Iowa author. Lucky us!

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