Abilene and her new friends try to solve some small town mysteries through spying on people, talking to them, and scouring old 1918 copies of the Manifest Herald. Along the way, Abilene gains a profound new respect for her father and his friends, and she even helps some of the older people in the town to recover from their great losses of the past.
This book won the Newbery in 2011, and I think it's a fantastic book for teaching literature to children. It contains all kinds of literary devices (symbolism, metaphors, allusions, foreshadowing), and it also introduces young readers to some fascinating history: the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, World War I, orphan trains. Seen through the eyes of a child, these world events still retain their tragedy, but you realize that life goes on. Even in the midst of war and economic disaster, there are still tree houses to repair and adults to spy on. And if you're kind and helpful, there are always people to love who will love you right back.
Because I think this is such a wonderful novel for teaching literature, I'm working on a Tolman Hall lit guide for it. It will be available in early October.