Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm (1999)

Pappa is always yelling at me Don’t Get Into Mischief May Amelia when all I’m ever doing is what some other boy has done first. He says that I am a Girl and because I am a girl I cannot be doing what boys are doing, that there is a danger everywhere. Wilbert tells me that Pappa has had a Hard Life. That you can see the hardness in the lines of his face, what with coming all the way to Washington after being pressed into the Finnish Navy and leaving Finland behind. That’s why he’s hard on me. But Wilbert’s wrong. Pappa doesn’t like little girls very much in general, and me in particular (p 2).

our_ameliaMay Amelia is the first girl born in Nasel, sister to six brother and one cousin who is as good as a brother,  having been left behind by his parents seven years ago. She’s a tomboy, eager to fish, act the skipper, and learn how to shoot a gun.

But everyone’s always telling her to act like a Proper Lady. Well, she doesn’t want any of it. She dreams of sailing around the world, having adventures.

So she ends up in plenty of scrapes. Her best friend is her youngest brother, Wilbert. He is always helping her out, from teaching her to read to defending her against her other brothers. Kaarlo, her seventeen year old cousin, is always teasing her and playing tricks on her.

Life in the wilderness of 1899 Washington on a farm is not an easy life, nor a fragrant life. Trouble can come very quickly and be all the more devastating for the closeness of the few who have made this life their own.


Readers will immediately empathize with May Amelia, and, if they are anything like me, want her for their friend. She is a strong but flawed character, brimming with emotion. She joins the ranks of great female characters in children’s literature along the likes of Anne Shirley, Lyra Belacqua, Joe March, Leslie Burke, the Penderwicks, and Mary Lennox.

The narrative style shines with a character like May Amelia and flows like the Nasel River, sometimes gently, sometimes strongly and furiously.

I laughed and cried and enjoyed every moment.


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