Focus on the Family

Dicey's Song

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.

Plot Summary

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.

Christian Beliefs

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.

Authority Roles

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


Profanity/Graphic Violence

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.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

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.