“Eloquent and resonant…poignantly underscores the significance of family, friendship, and home.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Gentle and old-fashioned in the best sense…a little gem about small-town life.” —Booklist (starred review) “A sweet story for children dealing with change.” —Kirkus Reviews
From Newbery Medalist Cynthia Rylant comes the charming story of nine-year-old Flora Smallwood and the eventful year she spends in the quiet community of Rosetown, Indiana.
For nine-year-old Flora Smallwood, Rosetown, Indiana, is full of surprises, many of the best of which happen at the Wing and a Chair Used Book Shop, where she loves to read vintage children’s books after school in the faded purple chair by the window.
But lately, those surprises haven’t been so good. Her dear old dog, Laurence, recently passed away. Not long after, her parents decided to take a breather from their marriage, and now Flora has to move back and forth between their two houses. Plus, she’s just begun fourth grade, and it is so much different than third.
Luckily Flora has two wonderful friends—one old and one new. And with them around to share thoughts and laughs and adventures big and small, life in Rosetown still has many sweet moments—and even some very happy surprises!
Rosetown 1 Wings and a Chair Used Books was where Flora Smallwood’s mother worked three afternoons a week. Inside, it had a purple velveteen chair by the window for anyone who wanted to stay awhile, and Flora, who sometimes felt quite acutely the stress of being nine years old, and sensitive, loved this chair. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were her favorite days because of it.
The owner of the shop was Miss Meriwether, a tall woman with deep black hair pulled tightly into a ponytail. Miss Meriwether told Flora that in her younger days she had been a free spirit but that one day she’d decided to grow up and open a shop.
Flora tried to imagine Miss Meriwether as a free spirit, but it wasn’t easy, as the words “inventory” and “bottom line” sometimes floated through the bookshop air as Flora sat reading. But Miss Meriwether did like long flowery skirts, so maybe she was still free in her heart.
Flora’s family had been through a time of sadness, for their old, loving dog, Laurence, had passed away one spring night while everyone was sleeping. They all knew Laurence was fading. But no one believed, really, that he would ever not be with them anymore. Especially Flora, who had held on to his collar ever since she took her first steps.
But he did: he left them. And since then the idea of a new family pet sometimes had been mentioned. Yet never followed through on. Everyone was, in some way, still holding on to Laurence’s collar.
Flora was an only child, and her parents were, for now, living in separate homes. The challenges of this, of course, were many. And there was the practical challenge for Flora of having two homes, with her own bedroom in each, for since most things do not come in duplicate, often the one thing she needed right that minute was not in this home, it was in the other. Sometimes the thing was not that important, as in the case of her green scarf or striped coat. But sometimes even something small like that—a scarf or a coat—suddenly felt so vital to her, and she felt a great sad longing because it was not in this home but the other one.
Flora’s father, Forster Smallwood, worked for the Rosetown newspaper, The Rosetown Chronicle, and he was, Flora thought, a nice man, a good father, and a lost soul. She was not sure why she thought he was lost. Maybe it was the look she often saw on his face, that look that detached him from wherever he was and whatever he was doing and put him somewhere else. Maybe Neptune.
But he was a good father and a good photographer, too. He often allowed Flora to stand with him in his darkroom to watch a photograph slowly come into being. Standing under the red glow of the darkroom light, Flora watched the blank photographic paper bathe in the pan of chemicals. And then the formerly invisible face of a person would begin to materialize on the wet paper, his features becoming clear and strong, like a ghost who has suddenly found teeth and eyes and ears and put them on.
Both Flora’s father and mother had been very troubled by the war in Vietnam, and now American soldiers were being withdrawn from the fighting. Rosetown, Indiana, in 1972 was like any other small American town, its citizens sharply divided over the war and what it all had been about. Flora’s father once told her, when he was in a dark mood after the evening television news, “You were born into an angry world.”
But then he had smiled, as if he realized how harsh this might have sounded, and he added, “Thank goodness you showed up just when we needed you.”
It seemed to Flora that the purple velveteen chair by the window in Wings and a Chair Used Books was more important than ever these days. Laurence had passed on. Her scarves and coats were confused.
And fourth grade at Rosetown Primary School was so very different from third.
1. Flora’s parents are separated, and now she has two homes with two bedrooms. Despite the fact that she’s gained more space to call her own, she still feels a great loss. Why do you think that is? Do you think it’s possible to gain something and lose something at the same time? What might you tell Flora to help her feel better about her situation?
2. Flora wonders if there’s really a cat hiding under the steps of the barbershop. Yury agrees that the cat exists, saying, “‘Unless I am delusional . . . my father says that sometimes I am a master of grand delusion.’” Flora decides that she’s “glad to have a friend capable of grand delusions.” What does Flora mean by this? How might Yury share his delusions with her?
3. Standing in the field after meeting Zowie, a parachuting dog, Flora has a feeling that she identifies as “expectation.” How would you describe that feeling? What might happen when something doesn’t meet your expectations? What might happen when it does? How might either experience change your perception of future expectations? Flora’s father did not feel what she felt; he had his “work eyes.” Do you think your parents’ expectations are different from your own?
4. Although Yury was missing his cat who had passed away, he wanted Flora to have the new cat they’d found. Flora thinks, “it is a rare thing when a friend wants, really wants, you to be happy.” Name other scenes in the book that show evidence of Yury, Flora, and Nessy’s close friendship. What does it mean to be a good friend?
5. Why does Yury choose “Friday” for his puppy’s name? What kind of qualities and personality do you think Yury hopes his puppy will have? Did Friday live up to his name?
6. What does Flora mean when she says she and her mother both loved “good words”? What might they love about the word “thrifty”? Think about whether this is a word you hear often. What are some of your favorite words? How do you learn new words? What do you do when you come across a word and you don’t know what it means?
7. When Flora’s mother signs her up for piano lessons, Flora realizes that “she had always wanted to play the piano. She just had not known this about herself until now.” Have you ever felt this way? How do you learn about your likes and dislikes? Nessy discovers she is also musically talented. What does this discovery mean for Nessy? Why does it make her feel like she belongs to something?
8. What does it mean to be a survivalist? How do Yury and Flora learn more about becoming one? How does Yury use those skills to come to the rescue when Flora and her mother need to get to Wings and a Chair Used Books?
9. Mr. Cooper’s “Encyclopedia Hour” fills Flora with a wealth of information about the world. Why is this so exciting to Flora? Why does she plan to use the encyclopedia to learn about whales and dolphins?
10. Yury and his family are from Ukraine. Why did they leave? Is it possible for them to go back? What does Flora learn about his native language, customs, and Christmas celebrations?
11. Miss Meriwether travels to Paris and sends Flora a postcard that says Bonjour, mes amis! which means “Hello, my friends!” in French. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? What language do they speak there? Flora and her mother visit Miss Meriwether’s house and learn that she also used to live in Nepal. What does she teach them about Nepal?
1. Yury and Flora like to make up stories together by alternating words or phrases. “‘I would like to go there, Yury said, pointing to a book about Key West. ‘I would sail a sailboat.’ ‘And follow an octopus,’ said Flora. ‘To South America,’ said Yury. ‘To a town filled with . . .’ Flora said, then waited for his answer. ‘Elephants,’ finished Yury.” Start a story with your class, having students take turns adding words or phrases as you write them on the board or piece of paper. Once all students have participated, read the full story aloud. Then put a different writing prompt on the board, and have students work individually to write a short story based on that prompt. Have interested students read their short stories out loud to the class. Discuss the differences between collaboration and individual work, and how students found both experiences. Was it harder working in a group to create a story, or working on their own? Did the first activity help spur creativity for the second? Which activity did they prefer? Relate their experiences to the variety of projects the characters of Rosetown plan to embark on at the end of the book. Group endeavors include Flora’s parents working together on a new business and Yury helping at his father’s office and joining Good Manners for Good Dogs dog school; largely solo endeavors include Flora writing a story and Nessy learning to ride a bike. What are some of the challenges the characters might face? What are some of the benefits of working alone or working together?
2. Flora’s name means “flower,” and Vanessa’s means “butterfly.” Have students look up the origin and meanings of their names, and share them with the class. Discuss the history behind them, and whether they think the name reflects their personalities.
3. Flora and Yury read many vintage books at Wings and a Chair Used Books. Break students into groups and assign each one to a vintage book mentioned in Rosetown. Print out the book covers and book summaries for them. Then have them go to the school library and find a book in a similar genre for the same age group. Have them compare and contrast the modern and vintage books, looking at the covers, the content, the characters, the setting, and the writing style. Why do they think Flora and Yury loved reading vintage books? How have children’s books changed? What might a young reader from the 1970s be surprised to read about in our books?
4. Rosetown is set in 1972, just after the Vietnam war. Reread the first chapter where Flora’s father talks to her about being “born into an angry world.” Why might he have said that? Is the time period important to the story? Is it important to Flora’s role in her family? Have students research events that happened in the month or year they were born, and make a time line as a class. Discuss the importance of these events, and how they may have affected their families or the country.
5. Flora, Yury, and Nessy try many different activities—some which they enjoy, and others they decide aren’t the best fit for them. Have students create charts with three columns: Activities I’ve Tried, Activities I Love, and Activities I Want to Try. Then have them fill out each column. If needed, help them brainstorm a list of activities on the board before beginning. For an additional challenge, have them set goals for trying new activities.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Cynthia Rylant is the author of more than 100 books for young people, including the beloved Henry and Mudge, Annie and Snowball, Brownie & Pearl, and Mr. Putter & Tabby series. Her novel Missing May received the Newbery Medal. She lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Visit her at CynthiaRylant.com.