Our Only May Amelia

by Jennifer L. Holm

Paperback, 1999



Local notes

PB Hol




HarperTrophy (1999)


As the only girl in a Finnish American family of seven brothers, May Amelia Jackson resents being expected to act like a lady while growing up in Washington state in 1899.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

7.6 inches

Media reviews

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1999) May Amelia, the feisty lovable heroine of Helm's fetching novel, "ain't no proper young lady." A 12-year-old girl with an adventurous spirit and "a nose for trouble," May Amelia is the youngest of eight children and the only girl. Life in the rough world of logging
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camps and farming in the wilderness of the state of Washington in 1899 is not easy, and May Amelia and her brothers have to work hard to keep farm and family going. May Amelia dreams of being a sailor and traveling to China, but is hampered by everyone, especially her strict Finnish-born father, who is always yelling at her for "doing what the boys are doing." The book chronicles May Amelia's adventures with her brothers, a brush with a wild bear, conflicts with her mean-tempered grandmother, and the long-awaited birth of a baby sister who later dies in her sleep. The story, which is episodic and somewhat shapeless, careens along before stopping without much resolution. Still, the robust characterizations captivate, the lilting dialogue twangs, and the sharply individual first-person narrative gives the material authority and polish.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member SHeineke
This is a delightful story of a young girl growing up in the Nasel River area of Washingotn during the 19th century based on the diary of the author's grandaunt. With 7 brothers her greatest wish is that the baby her mom is expecting will be a girl. This wish is granted but not longer after birth
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the baby dies leaving May Amelia devastated. in-depth characters and a close up look at family dynamics but presented in a playful and /or thoughtful way within the story line.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
This Newbery Honor Award book is jam-packed with the weighty issues of a twelve year old girl struggling in a Northwestern frontier community. The only girl among seven brothers, May Amelia fights for her dreams, identity, and respect in a family that considers her nothing but trouble. Author
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Jennifer Holm gets right into the mind of May Amelia giving us the strong perspective of a maturing adolescent as she learns about dealing with pain, recognizing love, taking responsibility, and gaining self esteem.

I expect I'll pass this on to my granddaughter. I wonder if it might be a little heavy - but it's honest and straightforward as it addresses emotions young girls still deal with today. It's also a portrayal of how hard life was during the time of early settlements. Kids should realize the sacrifices made and how good they have it now in comparison.
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LibraryThing member mrs.kehoe
May Amelia has seven brothers and is the only girl child for miles around in the southern Washington/northern Oregon area known as the Nasel River in the very early 1900's. She can't help trying to keep up with the boys but it does lead to trouble. A writing style that doesn't use quotation marks
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may throw off some younger readers.
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LibraryThing member es109031
This is a the story of May Amelia. A girl born into a family of 7 boys, so her family considers her a miracle. May does not really like being considered a miracle she would rather be treated like one of the boys. She enjoys doing everything the boys do. She finds out that her mother is going to
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have another baby so she is hoping that it is a girl so she won't be considered a miracle anymore.
I can relate really well to this book because I am a tomboy, I really enjoy fishing, racing, sports and hanging out with the guys. I would recommend this book to those girls in school who get made fun of for being just one of the guys.
For an extension i would have the students take pictures of their family and explain what makes their family unique.
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LibraryThing member michellesharp
Mae Amelia is the only girl that has been born on the Nasel River, but she doesn't always think of her self as a girl because she has seven brothers. She goes fishing with her brothers and dresses like them too. But Mae is always treated like a miracle because she is the only girl. Her Mom is
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pregnant though and she wants a baby sister so she is no longer the only miracle.

Classroom Extension: Have the kids go home and for homework they are to draw a family tree and when they get back to school they can show their tree and if there are more of one sex than the other.
Classroom Extension: Talk about pioneer life and how it affected the time period that May Amelia lived in.
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LibraryThing member marciaskidslit
The story teaches unity between families and the community. Many of the families were immigrants from Finland and other parts of the world. All brought many cultural traditions, customs, and ethnicity to their homes and community. The story also teaches resiliency of our pioneer settlers in an
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untamed American frontier. Our Only May Amelia is a 1999 Newbery Honor book. This is an authentic story based on the diary of the author’s grandaunt, Alice Amelia Holm. The Author’s Note and Resources provide background information to substantiate the accuracy of the timeframe and geographic location. The author relied heavily on oral histories and local historical societies. Photographs from historical society and private collections preface many of the chapters.
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LibraryThing member Cottonwood.School
As the only girl in a Finnish American family of seven brothers, May Amelia Jackson resents being expected to act like a lady while growing up in Washington state in 1899.
LibraryThing member Chiree
“Our Only May Amelia” is the historical fiction about a twelve year old girl, Mae Amelia Jackson, who lives in the Nasel River Valley in the state of Washington in the year 1899. The child of a Finnish couple who emigrated from Finland and chose to homestead on the Nasel River, Mae Amelia is
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the youngest of eight children and the only girl. Not only is she the only girl born in the Jackson family but she is the only girl that has been born in Nasel. Mrs. Jackson is pregnant and Mae Amelia’s secret wish is that the baby is a girl so she can finally have a little sister. Mae Amelia can do anything the boys can do and refuses to be left behind or out of any adventure including working at the logging camp. Along with her favorite brother, thirteen year old Wilbert, she seeks adventure on the river and in the woods while fishing, running from bears, and spying on Indians. Grandmother Patience comes to live with the Jackson’s and chooses Mae Amelia as the target of her abuse and hate. Finally the baby comes and Baby Amy becomes Mae Amelia’s responsibility due to the illness of their mother. Tragedy comes to the family and Grandmother Patience takes the opportunity to blame Mae Amelia at the height of her grief. Broken hearted and unable to take any more abuse, Mae Amelia and Wilbert run away to Astoria to live with an aunt. In Astoria, Mae Amelia grieves and heals and eventually returns to the home she misses on the Nasel River.

Jennifer L. Holm, the author, is a grandniece of a Finnish-American girl born on the Nasel River during the nineteenth century. Her grandaunt’s diary inspired the story about May Amelia and her family. The story is told in the lighthearted tone of a twelve year old girl. The pioneer life is described through the details of the travel on the Nasel River, the burial rituals of the Chinook Indians, and the Finnish sauna and feasts. The author gives great detail to the description of the hard work and trials faced to survive life on a farm carved out of the harsh wilderness. The life in Astoria, “the most decadent town between San Francisco and Seattle”, is presented through the eyes of two children exploring the alleys between the shanghai taverns and the boat docks. Mae Amelia’s friendship with an eleven year old Chinese boy, a Chinook princess, her Irish uncle, and her Finnish family and neighbors tells us the diverse population of emigrants that existed on the West coast of America. Mae Amelia’s story is both funny and heart breaking. It is easy to go back in time with her to the homestead in the Nasel River Valley.

In the classroom the book could be used to support a discussion about the different and limited ways early pioneers had to travel across America. Miniatures of wagons, ships, and river canoes could be passed out to the children. The teacher could be prepared to share with the children the time it would take to travel in one of these methods versus today’s automobiles and the elements they faced while traveling. The book could also be used to support a discussion about the many different people that immigrated to America in the early nineteen century. The children could be shown a map of the United States pointing out how people came to America through many different ports on both coasts and from where they came.
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LibraryThing member mygirljennifer
Our Only May Amelia is my all time favorite book. It set me on the road to being a devout reader. The usual problems sited with this book are probably true. It has no quote marks. (The book is a work of art. Work with it.).. May has too many brothers. (Make a list, There all there on the one page.)
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I just get all choked up, picking up the book and reading the first page again. "My brother Wilbert tells me".. This book is a first person narrative. It is May Amelia's story. She is telling it to you. The book is just better and better with multiple readings. Jennifer Holm's other books are OK, but Our Only May Amelia is a work of art.

A young Emmy Rossum from the movie "The Phantom of the Opera" read the audio book. This is the only audio book that I have ever loved. She becomes May Amelia.
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LibraryThing member blancaflor
This was one of two books I have read this year that have similar protagonists, the other one is The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.I found that I couldn't really write a review about Amelia May until I had read Calpurnia Tate. Both have been recognized by the Newberry committee, and for some reasons,
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this story is better and for others it is not as good. The author can be heart wrenching with her descriptions of abuse in the name or discipline, but it is the quick pace of the story telling that makes this book great. However some of Amelia's struggles to be allowed the same privileges as her brothers does not get as deeply developed as Calpurnia's. The descriptions of the area during this historical period are interesting to read about as a Northwesterner. Both the main characters grow up as the only daughter in a family of several boys in different points in history. How either of these girls could be expected to not be tomboys makes for a interesting theme and touching coming of age struggles. Interestingly enough, both of these characters' stories are set in 1899, at the dawn of the new century.
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LibraryThing member elizabethwallmacht
Subjects/Content Studies/AASL Standards:
Frontier Life, Female Roles, Strong Female, Prejudice, Washington Territory, !900s.

2.1.1 Continue an inquiry-
based research process
by applying critical-
thinking skills (analysis,
synthesis, evaluation,
organization) to
information and
knowledge in order
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construct new
understandings, draw
conclusions, and create
new knowledge
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LibraryThing member prkcs
May Amelia, the daughter of Finnish immigrants, has 7 older brothers and is the only girl to ever have been born in their farming community in the late 1800s Oregon. Despite being told that girls are a lot of trouble, and that she should be a Proper Young Lady, May has a lot of adventures and wants
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to be a sailor when she grows up.
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LibraryThing member ashleywoody
Our Only May Amelia is a story about a young girl, May Amelia Jackson, who is growing up during the late 1800’s. She is a tomboy, growing up in the pioneer life with 7 brothers. Her mom is pregnant and May Amelia’s wish more than anything is a baby sister. Despite her family’s wishes
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for her to be a proper lady, she likes to go on adventures and that’s exactly where the book leads you through the adventures of her life in the pioneer days where along the Nasel river she will always call home.

Personal Reaction:
I got this book at a book fair when I was in either 3rd or 4th grade and absolutely fell in love with it. As a child, I related to May Amelia because I loved to go on adventures myself. This book is one of the very few books I have always kept close to my heart even as I have gotten older and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Extension Ideas:
1) Do a deep study into the pioneer life by bringing in the history behind it with how they lived, what they ate, what they wore, what they did for fun.
2) Have the students write a story about if they was to put themselves in pioneer life with May Amelia.
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LibraryThing member ref27
Wonderful character and writing. Great energy and more emotional and nuanced story arc than expected.
LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
This book reminded me of a more culturally sensitive Caddie Woodlawn, which is awesome because that was one of my very favorite books growing up. May Amelia lives in a small community of Finish immigrants in Washington State in 1900. She's got a lot of spunk and a lot of heart, running around their
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farm and the woods with her many brothers, but she's also starting to feel pressure to "act like a girl". With lots of detail about the Finish immigrants and Native American people of the time and area woven in seamlessly, this is a solid adventure story with a strong heroine.

The audio recording is just fine. I tend to prefer voiced recordings, which this is not, but it's still a solid reading. Emmy Rossum gives May Amelia a no-nonsense voice, which fits with May Amelia's character. Rossum's reading voice is high and clear, childlike without being annoyingly childish.
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LibraryThing member delphica
Maybe I am uptight and too conservative, but I cannot cope when books don't use quotation marks to indicate dialogue. I will never understand why this happens.

ASIDE FROM THAT, this book was mildly interesting (and I'm picking it up now because the sequel is out this year). A little Caddie
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-esque, Finnish immigrants settling in Washington state in the late 1800s, tomboy May Amelia gets up to hijinks.

The book was based on the diary of a relative of the author, and on one hand it's interesting to see how this story is based on real events ... on the other hand, I felt that lack of cohesion - in real life, stuff happens that doesn't necessary relate to other stuff that happens, in a work of fiction, all that stuff is supposed to flow together in a purposeful way. Which is a strength of a book like Caddie Woodlawn, where Carol Ryrie Brink makes her material work like a book ... this one doesn't quite hit it.
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
May Amelia has seven brothers, but not a single sister. She can keep up with the boys, but doing so often gets her in trouble, especially from her father. But why should the boys get to have all the fun, just because May Amelia is supposed to be learning how to be a proper young lady?

This story
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combines lighthearted moments of humor with themes of surprising depth as May Amelia experiences both the joys and the hardships of frontier living. I can see the episodic nature of the story making for good classroom reading, but the lack of a narrative arc makes it seem a bit disjointed at times. Still, readers who enjoy tales of plucky heroines of days gone by are sure to enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member Proustitutes
My mom's been married a few times now, and I can honestly say that not much good has come out of the multiple stepfathers I've dealt with. There is one notable exception: my first stepfather, when I was maybe 8 years old, randomly decided to give my sister and I a present each. He put his hands
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behind his back and told us to each pick a side, and then presented us each with our own book. My sister got "Because of Winn Dixie" and I got this book.

I remember being disappointed at first, because I had heard about "Because of Winn Dixie" and had never heard of this May Amelia character. Plus, the book wasn't pretty. Also, I had wanted to pick the other hand but the older sister got first call. Needless to say I didn't enter this book with any positive expectations.

I guess it goes without saying that I loved it, if I remember it all these years later as a favorite, so much so that I still have it on my elusive 'favorites' shelf ten years later at age 18.

The book is about a young girl who has grown up in a family of rambunctious brothers. She's unruly and rather wild, just goes about the riverside with her animal friends and her imagination to make a great day out of it. I remember the book felt rustic to me, that I was transported to this whole world that I, safely growing up in my upper-middle-class suburb, had no idea existed. And who knew that it could be so fun!

I might have been too young by conventional standards to read this at age 8 or so, so I'm not suggesting this as the prime reading age for any of my friends' and followers' children. But my gosh, please don't forget about this book. In 2000 it didn't win the Newbery Medal but it did win Honors, and it deserved every bit of recognition it got.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Well, I tried, but although it's definitely understandable why the Newbery folks considered this a good book, I just can't get into it. Maybe back when I couldn't get enough of Laura Ingalls and the other pioneers I would have loved this, but not now.
LibraryThing member fingerpost
May Amelia is a Finnish immigrant girl in 1899 in a small wilderness town in the Washington state area. Her father is rough, and she has a mess of brothers but no sisters. She doesn't much care for being a girl because boys have all the fun. One of her brothers is good to her, but most of them just
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give her grief. The book is a collection of sub-plots involving a purely evil grandmother, an older brother who may have been shanghaied, a murderer on the loose, the dangers of the logging operation upriver, and many more.
Over all, excellent. But I must offer this one criticism: It took me a while to get comfortable reading it, because the author rarely uses commas, frequently capitalizes words that shouldn't be capitalized, and worst of all, doesn't use quotation marks at all! Sometimes I found it awkward to figure out if May was talking to the reader, or talking out loud to someone else, or if someone else was doing the talking.
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LibraryThing member electrascaife
May Amelia lives with her parents and seven older brothers on their Washington state homestead in the late 1800's. She struggles against the idea that she should learn to be a proper young lady and that she's not supposed to do all the things her brothers can, and hopes that the baby her mother is
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carrying will be another girl so that she won't feel so alone.
Think Little House on the Prairie, but with Finnish immigrants in the Northwest. If you like Wilder's books, chances are good that you'd enjoy this one, too, which Holm wrote based on her great-aunt's actual diary entries.
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LibraryThing member readingsarah
The vernacular in this book makes it a little hard to swallow. The depictions of hard frontier life for white people also don't help the books cause but the spunky lead character is worth reading.
LibraryThing member RobertaLea
I do love May Amelia's voice. Storytelling at it's finest.


½ (158 ratings; 3.8)
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