Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain
by Robert Burch. Novel. 160 pages. Grades 3-6.
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Ida is a free spirit who, according to her, has been everywhere, done everything and done it well. She turned up at the door of the Sutton family in rural Georgia during the Depression looking for work, wearing a baggy brown sweater, overalls and clodhoppers with a buckeye dangling from one of the laces.
Her eccentric dress and manner is sniffed at by the aunt who has been running things there, but she is quickly adored and appreciated by the children who love her stories, her way of getting the chores done and her outlandish behavior.
The motherless Sutton family needs her as much as she needs them and Ida's presence is soon felt everywhere. When the other children at school make fun of Ida, hurting her feelings terribly, the Sutton children don't stand up for their friend and lose her, almost for good.
Eventually all concerned learn a lesson about what is important in life.
This is a great book for doing character studies:
It's Ida, of course, who dominates the book. Ida is a nonconformist who, at the very least, exaggerates her accomplishments and skills. Until the school kids make fun of her, Ida accepts who and what she is and is proud of her skills. She brings warmth and laughter into what had been a joyless household.
Although the story is told in the third person, it is from Randall Sutton's point of view that we see the story. The oldest son, Randall makes constant comparisons as he tells the story. He compares Ida's hair to binder twine; compares himself to a rowboat in contrast to Aunt Earnestine's battleship.
Aunt Earnestine had been running the Sutton household before Ida's arrival and her values and position in the household are very much threatened by Ida who blithely rolls along and right over Earnestine.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- Discuss the things Randall compares Ida to: a telephone pole, a scarecrow.
- Ida claims to have had a number of jobs. Which ones are possible? Which are probable?
- Ida claims to have many skills and sometimes she has trouble proving their existence. Other times she surprises the family and the reader with them. Making a list of what she claims to be true and what the action of the story proves to be true should leave plenty of room for discussion of bragging and exaggeration.
- Ida rolls her own cigarettes and smokes them. What does that say about her? What does she say about it?
- Ida's unconventional dress includes her "jewelry": a carved peach stone, a buckeye, etc. Noticing what she wears and deciding why she wears it leads to making some inferences from the reading.
- When Ida makes stew, the children do all the work. In that way she's like Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence. Find other characters that con others into doing their work for them.
- Find Randall's similes and make up others.
- Cooking plays an important part in the story. Find recipes and try them for: fried chicken, sawmill gravy, grits, cornbread, boiled custard, turnip greens, candied yams, country bacon and sweet potato and raisin pie.
- This book is really an historical novel and the action of the story is very much influenced by its setting. Get into the history of the Twenties and Thirties. Find out about the Depression as it affected members of your family.
- Find pictures of such Depression Era items as:
washtubs (big enough for bathing)
Progressive Farmer Magazine (or similar titles)
- Ida wasn't the only one traveling the road looking for work at that time. Look in nonfiction books about that time for other "Knights of the Road".
- Research the locale of the book as it was then and as it is now. Do people in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia still live the way the Sutton family did?
- Locate the Blue Ridge Mountains and name the states they stretch into.
- The children and Ida play many games. List them and play them.
- Ida reads the children the comic strips and then the children color them. Find out which of those they mention are still in the newspapers today.
- Ida isn't the only character in literature who is prone to exaggerate a bit. Find others who exaggerate and others whose feats you are sure are exaggerated: Davy Crockett, Iva Dunnitt, Shirley in the Shirley and Claude books, Pecos Bill, etc.
- At the very least, you'd call Ida eccentric. Find other characters who are equally eccentric: Amelia Bedelia, Pippi Longstocking, Mr. Popper, Dr. Doolittle, Mary Poppins. Could you call Ida a mountain Mary Poppins?
- Find other motherless families in literature and compare their situation and solution to that of the Sutton family. There are the ones on the prairie in Sarah Plain and Tall. What about motherless families on TV? Which ones are most realistic?
- Matt Phelan's The Storm in the Barn. (2009, Candlewick. ISBN 9780763636180. Order Info.) Graphic Novel. 208 pages. Gr 3-10.
Here's an outstanding example of a graphic novel which excels at illustrating an historical phenomenon. Set in the American Heartland during the Dust Bowl of the 1930's this is the story of one eleven year old boy's incredible experiences of the times even while it ventures into the realms of fairy tales and tall tales. Best used after students have already had some exposure to information on the Dust Bowl.
- Compare Ida to the tramps in Helen Cresswell's Night Watchmen (Aladdin, 1989 ISBN 0-689-71292-8. Read review.
- Read other books by Robert Burch. Is there a common theme or setting? Charlotte Huck says, "Burch's characters have warmth and sympathy which is lacking in those created by Robert Newton Peck." Do you agree?
- Compare Ida to the main character in Eleanor Estes' Hundred Dresses (Harcourt, 1974 ISBN 0-642350-2). She too is the brunt of jokes because of her clothing.
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