A book review for parents
This second family-life, coming-of-age book in the "The Tillerman" series by Cynthia Voigt is published by Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Dicey's Song is written for kids ages 10 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Dicey Tillerman and her younger siblings, James, Maybeth and Samuel, have watched their mentally ill mother deteriorate. Now Gram (their mother's mother) has taken them in. Each child has special challenges as well as unique gifts. Gram and the children work to bring out the best in each other. Dicey is used to taking care of the younger children, so she feels both relief and confusion now that she has Gram's help. But as Dicey begins to "come of age" in her new life, she often ponders Gram's advice about how she must both hold on to and let go of the past. As the book concludes, Dicey's mother dies in the mental institution, and the family brings her ashes home.
James reads the Bible because a teacher has told him it's one of the "underpinnings of Western civilization" and because he likes reading thick books. Gram's Bible contains a record of family members. Dicey's friend Wilhelmina, a minister's daughter, talks in class about the conflicts between Bible characters (such as Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist) and their societies. Some of the kids briefly discuss Jacob and Joseph.
Though some in town whisper that Gram is strange, if not crazy, she provides a solid home for her grandchildren and even adopts them. She ensures that their needs are met and that they're given opportunities to thrive in their areas of interest, even though it means she must abandon her pride and accept financial help from others. Dicey, once the main authority figure in her siblings' lives, now shares the responsibilities and the decision making with Gram. The younger children's needs remain her utmost priority. Maybeth's piano teacher, Mr. Lingerle, becomes a family friend. He helps Gram learn to accept help as he watches the kids and gives her money to pay for her daughter's cremation. Two of Dicey's teachers criticize her work ethic, failing to understand her personal circumstances and educational needs.
Other Belief Systems
Dicey says cripes a couple times.
Dicey's breasts "point out" under her T-shirt. Later, Gram makes her buy some bras. Gram also tries to discuss sex and menstruation with Dicey, but Dicey says she already knows how those things work. Wilhelmina is surprised that Dicey never asked if anyone had French-kissed Wilhelmina. Dicey's friend Jeff sings a song about a woman who is having an affair and how her husband finds out and slits her throat.
Newbery Medal 1983.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why do you think Gram keeps everyone out of the attic for so long?
What is she trying to hide?
- At different times, Gram tells Dicey to "hold on" and "let go."
What does she mean by each of these things?
Can a person really do both at the same time?
- Have you ever known anyone who had a mental illness?
How did it affect him or her and the family?
- Why do you think Dicey and Gram think it's important for them to bring Momma's remains back to their home?
- James mainly reads the Bible because his teacher tells him it's one of the "underpinnings of society."
Do you think that's true?
A lot of people think of the Bible as a history text.
What do you think?
- How did you feel about the way Dicey handled her home economics class?
Should she have tried harder?
Why do you think she didn't?
- What are some ways Dicey helps or encourages her younger brothers and sister?
Does it make a difference to them?
What are some ways you could support your siblings?
- Why do you think Gram has such a hard time accepting help from people?
Give some examples of when pride is a positive thing and when it is negative.
(Parents may wish to further discuss what the Bible says about pride and/or community.)
Note: The Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1995 honored Voigt's lifetime contribution of writing for teens.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.