The Bookworm: Yonder, Dirt and the Tudors

Terri Schlichenmeyer


By Denise Gosliner Orenstein

c. 2017, Scholastic

$16.99, $22.99 Canada; 224 pages

“Dirt” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein.

Thanks! You’re a lifesaver! A friend gives you a lift, loans you her notes, shares his jacket with you, and you can’t appreciate it enough. Or maybe you’re the lifesaver, the one who’s always lending a hand or doing the right thing. Thanks! Just remember, though, as in the new book “Dirt” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein, the life you save may save yours.

Ever since her mother died and her father had taken to drinking his special cider all night, 11-year-old Yonder hadn’t said one word. Why bother? Nobody listened anyway. Nah, she’d just be invisible and that was mostly okay.

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It was not okay when bullies like Heywood Prune tormented her, though, which was often. Teachers at Robert Frost Middle School were never around when that happened, except when Yonder tried to defend herself. That was what got her expelled the afternoon she met Dirt.

She’d been sent home from school that day, and was sitting on the crooked steps of the shack she called home when the filthy, one-eyed pony walked up to her. He smelled bad and he was fat. Yonder knew exactly who he belonged to: old Miss Enid, who treated the animal badly, which was probably why the pony hung around Yonder’s house. It took two days for Yonder to befriend him, and to name him for the very thing he seemed to love.

Oh, but Dirt loved Yonder, too. More than her father, more than her teachers, more than the social workers who came around when she didn’t go to school. He seemed to understand what she was thinking. He was her only friend, so when she found out that Enid was trying to sell Dirt for horsemeat, Yonder knew she had to act fast. She hid him in the only place she knew he’d be safe: her house.

But you can’t hide a 300-pound pony in a house forever, especially when the school is looking for you, and when Social Services wants to talk to your dad. And especially when the pony’s real owner wants her pony back …

Let’s start here: your horse-crazy 8-to-14-year-old wants this book. She might not know it now, but she does. And “Dirt” will gallop right into her heart.

Truly, the only thing to say about a pony that chooses his girl is that it’s every horse-wanting child’s dream. Dirt does that, and though he’s the comic relief in this book, he’s not a caricature; author Denise Gosliner Orenstein makes him authentic enough.

Then, despite a lack of voice and a bit of naïveté, Yonder is a wonderful coming-of-age heroine. Nothing escapes her; she’s sharp-minded about the grown-ups around her, teachers she has, and friends she doesn’t. And on that note, this book about friendship, responsibility, devotion, and love is thrilling, gut-wrenching (but not too much), and perfect for horsey girls.

But don’t let that stop you. Yes, you can enjoy this book, too – in fact, read it, laugh and cry, then share “Dirt” with your horse lover. It’s a book you’ll both savor.

“The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: A Social History”

By Elizabeth Norton

c. 2017, Pegasus Books

$28.95, higher in Canada; 416 pages

“The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: A Social History” by Elizabeth Norton.

Four turrets and a drawbridge. Oh, and a moat. Your home absolutely must have a moat, plus a dining hall, red carpet to the throne, and servants’ quarters. You’re already queen of all you see, so why not have a castle to match? If you lived six hundred years ago, as in “The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women” by Elizabeth Norton, you’d be lucky to have it.

In Shakespeare’s time, it was believed that human life could be sectioned into Seven Ages of Man. The word “man” was taken literally, in that case – but in Tudor times (roughly 1485-1603), women left their marks, too.

Queen Elizabeth of York might’ve thought she was expecting, but she couldn’t know for sure until she felt a quickening. It was 1492, and knowledge of pregnancy was scant; still, Her Highness’s suspicions were correct. That fall, after weeks of tedious confinement and labor on a wooden pallet, she would deliver a princess that she would immediately turn over to a wet-nurse and two “rockers.” They would basically raise the child through her infancy, which would end in her seventh year.

Alas, the little girl died at age three and the family mourned but “life went on”: her mother was pregnant again.

For Tudor children, adolescence began at age seven and, while boys were usually sent away to be educated, girls often received schooling at home. Most Tudor parents believed that “a little learning could not hurt” a girl before she’d be put to work at service jobs, often on farms. Considered a sort of on-the-job training, it was a rough life for a child – especially when rape was common and rapists were rarely prosecuted.

Fourteen years old was a time for romance and early adulthood, and 28 was a “time for action.” Marriages then were sometimes arranged (or strongly encouraged), with both men and women expecting to have some say in the choice. Women might own or run businesses. They were not able to serve, politically, but had ways of being heard by municipalities. They took control of family-planning and could divorce.

And then Henry VIII ascended to the throne …

That’s the point where author Elizabeth Norton’s narrative seems to take an ugly turn. It’s where common notions of life in the Middle Ages are no longer happily thrown out a turret window. Instead, “The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women” explains how and why things changed, beginning with the mother of the first Tudor princess, ending with the death of Elizabeth I, and with plenty of commoners between.

This lively, fun-to-read account recalls how a teenage lady became a servant, and how women became marginalized as they aged. Among other tales, you’ll read about the bravery of a heretic who lost her life over her beliefs.

Though the first part of this book is mostly positively eye-opening and even somewhat empowering, beware that latter parts can be gruesome at times. Don’t let that deter you, though; for an Anglophile, reading “The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women” is like getting the red-carpet treatment.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.