Ivy and Paul hatch a secret plan to find Ivy’s missing mom and say good-bye to the space shuttle in this heartfelt and “engaging debut novel” (School Library Journal, starred review) reminiscent of Each Little Bird that Sings and Because of Winn-Dixie.
Ivy Green’s mama has gone off with a charismatic preacher called Hallelujah Dave to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. At least that’s where Ivy and her dad think Mama is. But since the church has no website or phone number and Mama left no forwarding address, Ivy’s not entirely sure. She does know she’s missing Mama. And she’s starting to get just a little worried about her, too.
Paul Dobbs, one of Ivy’s schoolmates, is also having a crummy summer. Paul has always wanted to be an astronaut, and now that NASA’s space shuttle program has been scrapped, it looks like his dream will never get off the ground.
Although Ivy and Paul are an unlikely pair, it turns out they are the perfect allies for a runaway road trip to Florida—to look for Mama, to kiss the Space Shuttle good-bye, and maybe, just maybe, regain their faith in the things in life that are most important.
God is alive and well in Loomer, Texas, so I don’t know why Mama had to go all the way to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida to find him, or to find herself, either.
Daddy says she went to get some of the sadness out of her system. He says it like it should be as easy as getting a soda stain out of a skirt. A little scrub, a little soak, one quick run through the machine—good as new and no big deal.
Every day since Mama left, Daddy’s been trying to convince me that things aren’t all that bad, even though Mama’s become a Holy Roller and has disappeared with a preacher who calls himself Hallelujah Dave.
Meanwhile I’ve been trying to convince Daddy that things are truly and indeed all that bad. Hallelujah Dave, for goodness’ sake.
“I promise I’m not just being sassy, Daddy, but explain to me again how lying around on the ground speaking in tongues is gonna get anything out of Mama’s system?”
“We don’t know that she’s really lying on the ground, baby,” says Daddy. Which, you have to admit, is a minor quibble. And you’ll notice, he doesn’t mention the speaking in tongues. What he does do is pour me a big bowl of puffed rice and hand me a banana from across our kitchen table.
For my whole life Mama’s always cooked breakfast—something hot, like eggs or oatmeal—but I don’t mention that ’cause it’s not Daddy’s fault that we’re here all alone with cold cereal, no eggs, and no Mama-in-her-own-mama’s-apron. It’s not his fault, but I’m not used to this way of doing things, and I don’t really want to be.
Until the wildfires in the spring, everything was perfectly great-good enough here at home in Loomer. I mean, we’ve got more churches than Quik Marts. Way more. And we have Advent Oil and Lube, and we have Heaven Sent Hair Designs, and we have Creation Concrete. And we pray in school, which the science club doesn’t like, but that doesn’t seem to stop anybody except the kids in science club. We have all that godliness, but we don’t have The Great Good Bible Church.
Apparently those fires just freaked her all the way out and she needed help to make sense of it all. Or at least that’s what she said ten days ago when she actually up and left.
“I need to see the truth and be the truth,” said Mama, “and Hallelujah Dave says The Great Good Bible Church is the place to do that. You understand.”
But we didn’t.
My mouth partly filled with cereal, I say, “Daddy, she’s been gone long enough to have called us, though, right? And she hasn’t yet. So are you gonna do anything about that?” I reach my wet spoon into the sugar bowl and pull a big scoop back onto the cardboardy puffs getting soggy in my bowl.
“Ivy-girl, I don’t think there’s a dang thing more I can do, ’cept let your mama get right with God. We’re here, safe and sound, and she’ll be back soon. And in the meantime, I may not be a mother, but I can take care of my daughter. Nobody’s gonna tell me I can’t.”
And with that, he pushes back his chair, sets his coffee cup down just a little bit too loudly in the sink, and slips his Green’s Roofing ball cap onto his head. I can tell by the clock above the stove that he doesn’t really need to leave for work quite yet, but he is obviously done with this conversation, so I guess I am too.
I want to say, “How do you know she’ll be back soon?” but instead I say, “You’re doing a fine job, Daddy,” and I mean it. He’s doing as best he can. And the least I can do is put up the breakfast dishes and make the beds and maybe even run a load of dirty clothes without complaining.
“You too. Love you, baby,” Daddy says, and then he sighs and shakes his head and walks out the door.
Here’s something that’s not very good about The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida. It’s in Florida.
And here’s another thing: it doesn’t have a website. It doesn’t have an address or a phone number or ratings or reviews or anything. It’s almost like it doesn’t really exist. And for all we know about Hallelujah Dave, he might as well be a bogeyman or something who swept Mama off into the swamps of Florida, never to be seen again.
When I say as much to Daddy, he says, “Your mama’s too smart to fall for a bogeyman, Ivy. We’ve got to have faith in that.” Which isn’t super-reassuring, if you ask me.
If Mama were here, she’d say, “Ivy, don’t be flat-out ridiculous. You let your imagination run away from you like a fox with a ham hock. Keep your head on, honey, and say a prayer that God doesn’t get a look at your crazy ideas and make them all come true.” Because she’s practical that way.
But the thing is, ideas are my talent. My only talent, really. My voice isn’t right for singing, I freeze up in the spelling bee, and I can’t shoot a basket to save my life. If I stop coming up with ideas, I’m not gonna have anything left to do or talk about.
This year in English class Mrs. Murray asked us to create a motto, and mine was, “Every good day starts with an idea.” Mrs. Murray liked it. She said it was not just a motto but an inspirational motto. And Paul Dobbs, who was my tablemate in English but who’d barely ever whispered a word to me, said, “Yeah, that’s cool. It’s kind of like saying ‘Every good experiment begins with a hypothesis,’ isn’t it? I might change my motto!” Which goes down in history as the first and only time I’ve ever said anything even mildly impressive to an egghead like Paul Dobbs.
At home when I showed my motto to Mama, she said, “Yes, every good day starts with an idea. That may be true. But not all ideas are good.”
Considering where Mama is or isn’t right this very moment, I could say the same to her.
This is the second summer in a row that Mrs. Murray’s hired me to help take care of Devon and Lucy. Maybe she hired me on account of my ideas. Or maybe it’s because I live on the same side of town, and I get good grades, and she knows my mama and daddy. She trusts me. But if I don’t leave the house right now, I’ll prove her wrong, because I’m never gonna get there by nine o’clock.
I put my lock and chain and a can of orange soda in my backpack, and I jump on my bike, sidesaddle. Rolling down the alley behind my house, I slip past the Larsons’ backyard and the Melroys’ and the Newtons’—and there are Abby Newton and Kimmy Roy, sitting on the bench by the Newtons’ garage, painting their toenails and tossing a ball for Abby’s dog. Because of course Abby’s lucky enough to have a dog. (Personally, I think if you’re an only child, you should automatically be issued a dog when you’re born, as a consolation prize, but my mama and daddy disagree.)
“Hey, Abby. Hey, Kimmy. Hey, Buddy,” I say, but I keep moving so I don’t have to get into a big conversation, since everything with Abby and Kimmy—especially Kimmy—is a big conversation.
“Hey, Ivy!” Abby yells when she sees me.
“Hey, Ivy!” echoes Kimmy. “Abby says your mom went to, like, seminary or some kind of crazy God camp or something? For the summer? Is that true?”
I’m still sidesaddle, with only my left butt cheek on the seat, so I whip my left leg all the way over the center bar of my bright blue bike and start pedaling in earnest. “Yep. Something like that,” I say, and I keep pedaling, faster and faster, to get away from them and from the honest truth about my mother.
1. Examine Ivy’s motto that “every good day starts with an idea.” What does this mean? Why is it so important to her? What was Mama’s reaction to hearing Ivy’s motto? Does her response suggest Mama’s general perspective on life?
2. Why does Ivy’s mom run away with Hallelujah Dave? How does her absence affect Ivy and her father?
3. Compare Mama with Mrs. Murray. How are they different? Similar?
4. Explain what Ivy’s dad meant when he said, “Church folks understand other church folks.” Do church folks share common beliefs and ideas? How so? Since Mama is a member of the church, why are her actions misunderstood by everyone there?
5. Ivy says that her parents didn’t give her a middle name because they wanted to “leave room for God.” What does this mean?
6. Paul is interested in science, and even wants to be an astronaut. Consider how scientific reasoning affects Paul’s faith in God.
7. Explore the symbolism of the bus driver named Magdalena. Note that a woman named Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus as one of his followers. Discuss other aspects of faith, mystery, and spirituality that serve as ties binding Ivy’s story together.
8. Is Paul and Ivy’s trip to Florida brave or crazy, or both? Ivy refers to it as “a leap of faith.” What do they have faith in, and is it rewarded?
9. Explain how Skinny Ricky is an unlikely candidate to lend assistance to Ivy and Paul. Why does he not seem to be the helping sort? Does he ultimately show another side of himself to Ivy? Do we know why?
10. How does Mama justify her reason for leaving with Hallelujah Dave? Could you forgive her, if you were Ivy?
11. Mama compares God to space, saying. “Davey arrived and reminded me of the other parts of God – the fire and the anger, but the mystery and miracles, too. So, yeah, I guess that is a little bit like space, isn’t it?” How is space like God, according to Mama? Do you agree?
12. In the beginning, Ivy and Paul were classmates but not exactly friends. Why and how does that change? Are they as different from each other as they thought they were?
13. At the end of the book, Ivy re-names herself. What does her name choice say about who she is and what’s she’s learned about herself?
14. Discuss the issues of faith and forgiveness in The Great Good Summer. How did Ivy change and grow over the course of this book? What about Paul or Mama? Can you define and explain the story’s theme, based on those changes?
Look up the lyrics and music for the hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” Listen, follow along with the words, and consider why this hymn was Mama’s favorite. Write a short essay explaining how this hymn relates to Mama’s character. What phrases in the hymn would Mama identify most with?
In a short essay, compare and contrast the story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor with Ivy and Mama’s story. Describe the similarities between the two. List the ways that the stories differ. Is Paul right that the myths about constellations are a lot like stories from the Bible? How so?
This Reading Group Guide was created in concert with Debbie Gonzales.
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.
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of numerous celebrated picture books, including One Dark Bird; In the Canyon; Happy Birthday, Bunny!; the Caldecott Honor recipient All the World; and Thank You, Garden. Liz is an adjunct professor of creative writing at Austin Community College, and her poetry has been published widely in literary journals. She lives with her family in Austin, Texas. Visit her at LizGartonScanlon.com.
This engaging debut novel hooks readers from beginning to end...This tender and funny story of a strong-willed young girl is reminiscent of Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer (HarperCollins, 2010) and Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000).
– School Library Journal *STARRED REVIEW, February 2015
Ivy's quirky voice narrates the story, which is full of adventure, to be sure, but also meditations on home, family, and the differences—and striking similarities—between science and religion...Equal parts peculiar and poignant, Ivy's story will have readers giggling as they root for her to find everything she's looking for.
– Kirkus Reviews, February 2015
“It’s the surprise and mystery of it that makes us want to watch,” quips Ivy Green, age 12, about watching remote-control airplanes fly, though she could just as easily be talking about her story itself....The real strength of this folksy novel, the first from picture-book author Scanlon (All the World), is its earnest, nonsaccharine treatment of what it means to have faith and to question it. As Ivy’s trust in her mother is shaken, so is her faith in God (“We wouldn’t be in this fix in the first place if it weren’t for God”). Readers will be rewarded with both genuine adventure and intense reflection as Ivy finds a balance between safe comfort and disquieting wonder.
– Publishers Weekly
I loved this book for Ivy's tenderness and strength, for her so-real voice. I loved it for Ivy and Paul's growing friendship and what this says about true love. Liz Garton Scanlon has, with courage and tons of artistry, given us a fun and suspenseful story that is not afraid to ask the big questions.
– Francisco X. Stork, author of Marcelo in the Real World
When Ivy Green can’t take any more missing, when even God seems to have taken off for parts unknown (along with her Mama), redemption nevertheless appears—in the sky, the stars, a kind-of-cute science boy, and a whole cast of people who love her. Liz Garton Scanlon has written a great-good miracle of a book. I can’t stop hugging it.
– Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath
When Ivy Green’s mom leaves Ivy and her dad to follow a pastor named Hallelujah Dave to the Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida, the seventh-grader’s life is turned upside down. Mr. Green doesn’t seem to know what to do about his missing wife or understand the depth of his daughter’s unhappiness. But Ivy’s newish friend, science-geek Paul, does have an idea: take the bus from their small Texas town to Florida, find Mrs. Green, and then visit the Kennedy Space Center, at Cape Canaveral....Ivy is a delicious character with a smart, believable voice. The conversations between churchgoing Ivy and science-loving Paul are some of the best parts of the book....Give this to readers who like their coming-of-age journeys with a hint of religion and a dose of humor.
This is an engaging story with strong characters and relationships, especially the father–daughter and mother–daughter bonds. The plot moves along quickly, and Ivy is a smart and thoughtful girl who many readers will appreciate. The story shows readers how trying teenage years can be and how difficult it can be to understand your place in social groups, as well as how tough the truth can be to handle. The conversations among all the characters and Ivy are realistic and make the book worth reading.—Karen Sykeny. VOYA
– VOYA, April 2015
Living in the east Texas town of Loomer should be good for the soul. According to twelve-year-old resident Ivy Green, “We’ve got more churches than Quick Marts. And we have Advent Oil and Lube, and we have Heaven Sent Hair Designs, and we have Creation Concrete. And we pray in school, which the science club doesn’t like, but that doesn’t seem to stop anybody except the kids in science club.” When a series of wildfires devastates the countryside, Ivy’s mama can’t find a speck of that godliness, so, trying to “get right with God,” she up and takes off for Florida with Hallelujah Dave and his Great Good Bible Church. Confused and seemingly helpless to change her situation, Ivy spends the beginning of the summer babysitting and fretting about her mama. But when her classmate, science club member and aspiring astronaut Paul Dobbs, suggests they go to Florida, find Ivy’s mama, and swing by the space shuttle before the program shuts down and dashes his dreams, the two are off on an improbable road trip. And although they travel far geographically, the novel is largely about internal growth as Ivy searches for resolutions that can incorporate her faith and Paul’s scientific view of the world. Although Paul and Ivy’s initial friendship appears a little convenient, their strong bond by story’s end is both honest and moving. An author’s note identifies the two real-life events (the Bastrop, Texas, fires and the final voyage of the space shuttle in 2011) that set the stage for the book.