Publishers Weekly, *Starred Review,* June 14

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth Sandra Dutton, Houghton Mifflin, $15 (144p) ISBN 978-0-547-24966-7
Mary Mae’s inquiring mind and keen observational skills get affirmation from her fifth-grade teacher but distress her creationist mother. Refusing to take her pastor’s advice to “trust the Bible scholars,” Mary Mae ends up with more and more questions as she tries to reconcile the Bible’s account of creation with what she’s learning in class about fossils and the age of the earth. Eventually, Mary Mae’s questioning leads her frustrated mother to yank her out of school to provide Bible-based homeschooling. “Why can’t you be my sweet little Mary Mae?” she asks. “It’s all so easy if you just believe what the Bible says and don’t go asking no questions.” Dutton (Dear Miss Perfect) sensitively navigates the sticky debate between creationism and evolution both through the young narrator’s delightful curiosity and honest questions, and through the various responses she receives from numerous caring adults, who all strive to provide truthful guidance. Concluding with a pastor’s affirmation that faithful people can have different opinions, it’s an honest portrayal that respects both viewpoints, as well as those that slot somewhere in between. Ages 8–12. (June)

School Library Journal,  July Reviews

Gr 5-7–Mary Mae has always accepted the conservative, religious teachings of her family, including a very literal interpretation of the Bible. However, the arrival of her granny and a new teacher cause the 10-year-old to question everything she has ever known. When Miss Sizemore starts to teach the class about fossils, Mary Mae begins asking questions of the adults in her life, and her mother decides it would be better for Mary Mae to be homeschooled. At no point in the story does the child ever question the existence of God; she only sees God doing things in a different way. While her mother chooses to see science as an enemy to her beliefs, Mary Mae sees it as an extension of God’s work. Miss Sizemore opens her up to a new world, where inquisitiveness is not only valued, but is key. Here the relationship with Granny is also crucial to the story; she is always there to listen to Mary Mae and does not discourage her. This simple act of support gives the child the confidence she needs to not give up her quest for knowledge. This is a great story with valuable lessons. Told in an Appalachian dialect, it not only depicts real feelings about religion, but also shows the people behind them as good. It is both a lovely coming-of-age story and a lesson in respect between religion and science.–Kerry Roeder, The Brearley School, New York City

Kirkus Reviews, May 15

Ten-year-old Mary Mae loves questions. She adores her teacher, Miss Sizemore, who shows her fossils found right in her school’s backyard. She adores her Granny, who plays the guitar and will make up songs about anything. And Mary Mae loves Jesus with all her might. But she doesn’t understand why her church teaches that the earth is 6,000 years old, while Miss Sizemore says it’s more like 6,000,000. Her Mama doesn’t like Mary Mae’s questions. Don’t they show a lack of faith? Very few books for this age group tackle religious subjects as this one does, in a way that shows respect for all sides. Dutton allows Mary Mae to retain both her questions and her faith; instead of a definitive answer, she shows evolutionists and creationists working to find a small, shared piece of middle ground. Mary Mae is a memorable character—spunky but not defiant—whose search for truth drives the narrative.

From Read the Spirit by David Crumm

TODAY, we’ve got a great book for the entire family, especially if your family is related to evangelical Christianity. I can’t imagine a more engaging and compassionate slice of American life than the 129-page “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth”—a novella for young readers by Sandra Dutton. Anytime we recommend books for “young readers,” we’ve selected them deliberately because we know adults will enjoy them as well. (If you don’t have a child at home right now, get this book and give it to a family that does—after you’ve enjoyed reading it yourself!)

“Mary Mae” was written with loving good humor by Sandra Dutton, who was raised in a very creative church-going family herself—and who grew up restlessly interested in all kinds of learning, including science. For millions of our conservative evangelical neighbors, that kind of restless curiosity still means there will be a collision at some point over evolution and literal interpretations of the Bible. Here at ReadTheSpirit, we maintain a “Faith and Science Resource Page (http://www NULL.readthespirit” encouraging people of all faiths to recognize that religion and science aren’t enemies. In fact, we just published a very popular week-long series on “Science Vs. Religion” emphasizing that very point. (http://www NULL.readthespirit NULL.html) However, all of those new bridges between faith and science don’t help much if you’re a bright 10 year old in a family intent on defending a 6,000-year-old version of cosmic story.

Author Sandra Dutton made these puppets to show what Mary Mae may have created in the novel, “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth.”This tale about little Mary Mae and her family is based loosely on various experiences author Sandra Dutton recalls from her own childhood in southern Ohio. (Here is Sandra Dutton’s own website if you want to read more about her life as a writer and artist. (http://sdutton NULL.homestead NULL.html))

Perhaps because she represents all the creative fire of Sandra Dutton’s own childhood, Mary Mae jumps off these pages as a terrific, well-rounded, likeable kid. She loves her family, loves her family’s long legacy of making music, and especially loves her grandmother, who seems capable of crafting a fresh song about anything that pops up in life. The whole clan belongs to an extremely conservative Christian church, where everyone enjoys playing music, praying together and creating folksy stage shows. It’s that latter pursuit—in this case, a puppet show about the Book of Genesis and the adventures of Noah—that winds up as a central point of tension between Mary Mae’s faith and her love of science classes in the public schools.

It would have been so easy for Sandra Dutton to craft this little tale as a mean-spirited Louisville Slugger to whop readers up side the head and score points on behalf of Mary Mae’s love of science. I don’t want to spoil any of the fun in this book, but it’s safe to say the novella is about opening our eyes and hearts to new connections in our own life stories. Mae loves both her collection of fossils she has gathered for a major project at school—and she loves her family, her church and even this puppet show that causes her so much grief before the curtain finally falls on these hand-made puppets.

I especially appreciated Dutton’s choice in not making Mary Mae’s Granny into an over-anxious stick-to-the-literal-Bible zealot. In fact, Granny is a folksy songwriter and musician who understands that the world is full of wondrous narratives. Don’t misunderstand. Granny is also a very conservative evangelical, but she’s an evangelical fascinated with the true wonderment of God’s creation. That potentially makes her more of an ally for Mary Mae than a foe, when Mary Mae’s Mama suddenly gets bent out of shape over the public school’s science projects. You’ll have to read this tale to find out what happens.

As a journalist for more than 30 years, including several years reporting from Kentucky, I can tell you that I’ve visited churches like Mary Mae’s many times. I’ve had the honor of spending time with families just like Mary Mae’s family. I could tell the moment I opened the cover of this book that Sandra Dutton was penning a pitch-perfect tale. When I discovered, in visiting Dutton’s own website, that she even wound up making a set of the puppets she describes in the book—I could tell how much she loves the people in this book. You can love them, too.

Project MUSE

Johns Hopkins University

ISBN 978-0-547-24966-7 $15.00

Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 4-5

Mary Mae is stubborn and inquisitive; when her mother says, “There are things you

should not question,” her immediate response is to ask “Why not?” This tendency

proves a problem when Mary Mae’s class begins to explore the local geology and

finds fossils of creatures, such as trilobites, that aren’t mentioned in the Bible. When

Mary Mae’s fundamentalist mother finds out, that’s the end of school for Mary

Mae, who must struggle to reconcile her mother’s view with her own burgeoning

scientific passion. Set in the late 1980s, this is a compact and easily readable tale of

a kid stuck in a genuinely tough dilemma. Dutton dives deep into the rural speech

of the Ohio River Valley without turning her characters cartoonish, and the varying

views of the people in Mary Mae’s life, including her pastor, her great-grandmother,

and others her mother respects, represent a variety of ways to balance faith and

science; nor is Mary Mae’s mother demeaned as a person for her concerns. Mary

Mae’s voice is humorous at times, especially in her obstinacy (“Want everyone to

be reminded I ain’t pleased,” she says about her sulking through dinner). While

the book self-contradicts a little bit by allowing Mary Mae’s scientific convictions

to be expressed as faith and proven correct thereby, it’s overall a celebration of the

wonderful intricacy of the natural world, with acknowledgment of the different ways

people can approach that celebration. DS

Chicago Tribune, July 17, 2010

The year is 1988, the place southern Ohio, a location rich with fossils. Ten-year-old Mary Mae loves many parts of her world. There’s the Remnant Church of God, where “you can get up and sing and say what you’re thankful for.” Mary Mae’s great-grandmother sings, plays and writes songs. Granny is just visiting, but she is a supportive and kindred spirit to Mary Mae. Mary Mae doesn’t see how anything bad can come from the exciting worlds of the earth’s previous ages, opened up for her by her beloved teacher, Miss Sizemore, and revealed in digs in the schoolyard and her backyard. Her mother threatens home schooling. Sandra Dutton treats these divided opinions delicately, not making the anti-fossil group too monolithic or rigid.

San Francisco Review of Books, September 23, 2010, Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth reviewed by Chris Johnson

Seasoned author, Sandra Dutton, introduces us to Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth, a charming tale of a curious young girl whose strong belief in the Bible conflicts with her teachings at school. Mary Mae’s mother and Sunday School teachers can’t help her understand the different beliefs to aid her in finding the truth regarding the Earth’s actual age. She exasperates adults with her incessant desire to know about fossils and the age-old debate over creation verses evolution. Mary Mae’s mama attempts to homeschool her only to discover she is in over her head. However, Mary Mae cleverly finds a way to convince her mom that she can study fossils and still believe in the Bible.

Dutton defies political correctness in her tale. She delves into several taboo subjects such as ignorance, hierarchy, religion, and even politics, but in a way that is endearing, captivating, and comprehendible.  The dialect takes some getting used to, but it adds to the characters as they come alive in their rural Ohioan ways.  A delightful and surprisingly educational read.

Reviewed by M. Chris Johnson

God’s Good Time: Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth by Sandra Dutton (http://http://booksforkidsblog NULL.blogspot

When Granny asked me what we learned in school today, I tell her all about trilobites and how southern Ohio was right down by the equator. “We’re digging for fossils tomorrow, too,” I tell her.
God must have loved curious kids, because he made so darned many of them. Mary Mae Krebs can’t help being one. “What do we believe?” she asks her mother, and her mother tells her to read Genesis.

“Wish I could dig for fossils,” says Granny. “But I’m just an old fossil myself.”

“Digging?” says Daddy. “You know when I was in school, we didn’t go out digging. We stayed inside and learned our lessons.”

“Ain’t no different ages,” Mama says. “Tempting kids to believe in something that ain’t so!” Mama goes on. “The world is 6000 years old. You look in the Bible.”

That works for Mary Mae, whose Sunday School class is already practicing for a puppet play about the Creation right from the book of Genesis. She’s in charge of Mrs. Noah, whose job, she is told, is to look after all the animals on the Ark. Practical Mary Mae hits a snag right there. How could one woman, even with those daughters-in-law, clean that many cages? And what about the insects? They’re animals, but the Bible doesn’t say anything about rounding them up and housing them in the Ark in all those little bitty cages. And what about fresh meat for the lions and tigers?

When Mary Mae and her class study the Cincinnati Arch, a band of ancient rock filled with the fossils of the Ordovician sea which once covered the Ohio River basin, her teacher Mrs. Sizemore takes them on a field trip to the school grounds themselves where a construction project has uncovered a treasure trove of trilobites, ancient snails and starfish, and crinoid fossils. Mary Mae is fascinated by the “enrolled” trilobite she finds and as she writes her “Interview with a Trilobite” report, she and her great-grandmother write a song for fiddle and guitar about the little creature. Then Mary May spots hundreds of little fossils embedded in the rocks around her own backyard fish pond, and when she shows them to her mother, Mama’s protests fail to past muster even with Daddy, not to mention Granny.

“She oughtn’t to be learning such things,” says Mama.

“But this is our backyard,” says Daddy. “Can’t go walking around like an ostrich.”

“Them fossils was put in the ground to trick us, Farley.”

“Trick us?” says Daddy. “Who’s trying to trick us?”

“The Lord,” says Mama.

“If that’s what the Lord’s up to, you can go to church yourself. I ain’t going.”

Things come to a head when Mama finds her trilobite report and takes her out of school. Forbidden to read anything but the Bible, Mary Mae goes back to adding up the “begats” in Matthew to see if the generations total up to 6000 years, but she runs into the question of how to count those Bible folks who lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Mama’s already overloaded, what with her job and distributing fliers for the church and everything else, and she finds Mary Mae’s endless questions about the Bible a trial and tribulation, And then, when Mama drives a young friend home to Indiana, the young woman talks her into stopping to see the famous local site, the Falls of the Ohio, in whose shoals millions of fossils are all around to be seen by visitors, “like the Lord’s science lesson.” Although Mama is gruff with her questions, Mary Mae senses that her mother is beginning to have some doubts about her interpretation of Genesis as well.

Then Mary Mae’s educational luck changes. A chance talk with a visiting pastor shows Mama that there are differences of opinion about the form Creation has taken even among the faithful at the Remnant Church of God.

“I can understand your concern,” Pastor Tilbury says to Mama. “but fossils is God’s creatures, too. The way I see it, they was all fossilized during Noah’s flood in 3500 B.C.”

“Now me, I believe they was fossilized in 90,000 B.C.,” says Mrs. Tilbury.

“I think you’re way off,” Pastor Tilbury says to his wife, “but everybody’s got a right to their opinion.”

With a reassurance from the pastor that fossils were mentioned in the book of Romans, Mama is convinced that it’s time Mary Mae went back to school so Mrs. Sizemore can take over the job of answering at least some of her questions.

In Sandra Duncan’s latest, Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth (http://www (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), her inquisitive and level-headed Mary Mae comes head on against the eternal verities. A member of an evangelistic church which affirms the primacy of the Scriptures, she has a hard time reconciling her mother’s version of creation with what she sees before her eyes, and her natural childlike drive to understand the world puts her into opposition with her mother’s weary assertions that there are some questions that ought not to be asked. Still Mary Mae’s parents and church elders are sincere and loving, and Dutton refuses to portray them as enemies in the ongoing conflict between faith and knowledge. Her use of the everyday speech of her characters is rich and pitch perfect, and her theme, that no one has an absolute answer to the questions of life, is crafted with the respect that can only come with love and the love that can only come with respect. As Publishers Weekly says in its starred review, “Dutton sensitively navigates the sticky debate between creationism and evolution both through the young narrator’s delightful curiosity and honest questions, and through the various responses she receives from numerous caring adults, who all strive to provide truthful guidance.”

“Now tell me about them fossils,” says Granny.

“They’re older than the dinosaurs,” I say…. “Miss Sizemore says the world is fifteen billion years old.”

Granny’s clicking her teeth. “Hmm… Well…My…”

“God takes his time,” I say.

“Yes, he does,” says Granny.

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth, Evolution, and a Ten-Year-Old Girl

July 25, 2010

by Jessica @ ReadSchmead: Tales of the Book

Mary Mae, in Sandra Dutton’s Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth, is delightful!  I cannot help but hope that I have such a tenacious and ever-questioning kid like her some day.  This book follows a brief period in Mary Mae’s life in which she learns about the existence of fossilized trilobites, an extinct marine arthropod.  Mary Mae is enthralled with science, especially fossils.  Her mother is far from thrilled.  Her mother insists that the existence of fossils contradicts the Bible and therefore is not right.  Dutton balances the existence of God and the existence of fossils very well without putting any ideology or science into question.  The story focuses on Mary Mae’s inquisitive mind and the fear such a mind might cause adults.  Mary Mae asks her mother and Sister Coates questions about the Bible and Noah’s Ark, but her questions are met with frustration and annoyance.  Mama explains to her, “There are things you should not question.”  Sister Coates refers to Bible scholars as “knowing the answers” but Mary Mae wants to understand things for herself.  Her Mama says, “All you need to know is right on that sticker we put up, John 3:16.  You do not need to know about generations.  You do not need to know why the Lord done anything.  He has his reasons.  If you’re learning things at school that don’t mesh with the Bible, you got to tell your teacher you ain’t allowed to hear it.”  But Mary Mae sees the Bible differently from her mother.  She is confused by the existence of fossils versus the Earth’s age according to her Church. Mary Mae is not satisfied with just believing without understanding.  This pleasant story shows the importance of fostering a critical mind.  That does not mean that Mary Mae should not believe in God, but that it is important to encourage discussion and articulation even when it comes to religion.  I loved this book and think it is well worth reading for any and all denominations.

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth (Review by Marya Jansen-Gruber at Through the Looking Glass

Mary Mae has grown up going to church, going to Sunday School, and singing hymns with her Granny. She loves the messages she finds in her bible, and is comforted by the knowledge that God and Jesus are a part of her life.

One day Mary Mae’s teacher at school starts to talk about the fact that the world is millions of years old. She shows the children pictures of creatures that lived in the Ordovician period, some five hundred million years ago. The children in the class even go digging in the ground to look for fossils, and Mary Mae finds an honest to goodness trilobite fossil – which thrills her. Mary Mae does not have a problem with the idea that the world is very very ancient, but her mother does. So do some of the people at the church. As far as they are concerned Bible scholars have figured out that the world is six thousands years old, and that is that. If the bible doesn’t talk about fossils and dinosaurs, then fossils and dinosaurs simply do not exist.

Poor Mary Mae soon finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Book of Genesis and the words of scientists. Mary Mae’s mother refuses to accept that what Mary Mae is learning in school has any legitimacy, and she takes Mary Mae out of school, which makes Mary Mae utterly miserable. Will Mary Mae ever be able to show her mother that science is not something to fear, but that it is something to embrace?

With humor and sensitivity, Sandra Dutton explores the idea that faith and science do not have to be kept separate. Instead, they can be brought together in a meaningful way, and there is no need for people of faith to feel threatened by science or for people of science to feel threatened by faith. Like Mary Mae, we can combine what science teaches us with our religious beliefs to give us a picture of the world that is both fascinating and miraculous.

Planet Esme by Esme Codell, August 2010

MARY MAE AND THE GOSPEL TRUTH (http://www by Sandra Dutton (Houghton Mifflin, 2010)”Them stripes in the hills,” I say.  “Shows all the different ages of the earth.  You can’t see it now.  It’s way back.”Now Mama’s mood just gets worse.  “Ain’t no different ages.” I don’t know what she’s talking about.  “Why not?” I say.Mama don’t answer right away.  She says to Granny, “I swear, them teachers ought to stick with spelling and numbers.”Mary Mae’s teacher is not sticking to spelling and numbers, but instead, presents an enthusiastic unit on the Ordovician age, fostering an interest in trilobites and archeology well-matched to Mary Mae’s budding curiosity about the natural world.  But this fifty thousand year old history doesn’t jive with the evangelical view of the world as six thousand years old, and from Mary Mae’s mother’s point of view, threatens her eternal soul. Mary Mae’s tendency to ask “why?” trickles over into Sunday School, and when her fossil collection and essay titled “Interview with a Trilobite” is discovered, mama reacts with a decision to homeschool, even though teaching is definitely not mama’s forté.  Mary Mae is frustrated, and wonders, is there any way she can find a balance between what she must believe and what she longs to learn?  Perhaps her participation in the church’s Noah’s Ark puppet show will give voice to the balance that is in her heart.  Dutton does a fairly brilliant job of respecting both sides of a prickly argument.  The church’s loving embrace of its congregants, eager to celebrate and give thanks for good news conveys a great warmth (“Jonathan Safer jumps up.  ‘I got a B on my history test.’ ”Praise the Lord!’ Everybody yells. ‘Amen!'”), as does her secular teacher’s desire to accommodate (“I’m sorry,’ says Miss Sizemore.  ‘I wish I’d known.  You know, I could have given you different assignments, the why I do Shirley Whirly.’ ‘Nope,’ I say.  ‘I like science.  I want what everybody else gets.’ Then I get a lump so big in my throat I can’t even talk”).  Both are sensitively drawn, and the character of Grandma, who sees the wonder of her maker in all things, serves as a central pillar to both ends of the scale.  The detail, lack of cynicism and inherent contemplation of this novel could have only been written by somebody who has experienced both sides of the coin.  As the daughter of two Sunday school teachers in Ohio, the author says, “I wrote this book for kids like me who love discovering things, whether the Bible, the backyard, or a history book.  I want them to have the courage to ask questions.”  In a storm where sometimes two grown-ups sides rage, the likable, high-spirited child character remains central.  Teachers: the only thing I balked at in the book was a linguistically colloquial reference to a woman’s breasts, which I chalked up to regionalism, worth being aware of but not a deterrent for collection development. Readers of all faith backgrounds and educational backgrounds will sympathize with and like Mary Mae, and find plenty to discuss.  Provocative in the very best way, this is a brave and timely book that leaves you the better for having read it.  (10 and up)

Welcome to My Tweendom, March 11, 2010

Mary Mae likes it at Remnant Church of God. She likes all of the Praise the Lords and the Amens, and the fact that folks can just get on up and tell everybody what it is they’re thankful for. Her pastor, Sister Coates, is preaching about how important it is to believe every word in the Bible, and how it’s the duty of all to spread the Word. She gives everyone a stack of John 3:16 stickers, and soon Mary Mae is in the car with her Mama and her Granny heading to the mall, hoping to save souls.

On the way back home, her Mama gets pulled over by the police. While they are stopped, Mary Mae notices the stripes in the rocks are just like the ones that they’ve been talking about at school. She tells her Granny about the different eras that they represent (just like she tells her Granny about everything that she learns in school), and Mama is none too pleased. She lets Mary Mae know that they don’t believe in different eras…they believe that the Earth is 6000 years old. Now, Mary Mae is a girl who likes her facts, so when she gets home she combs her Bible for where it says that the Earth is 6000 years old. When she doesn’t find the information she wants, she asks her Pastor about it. Sister Coates doesn’t seem too happy with the questions that Mary Mae is asking, and soon the Sunday school class is assigned to put on a puppet show all about Creation.

Meanwhile, at school Mrs. Sizemore is teaching Mary Mae’s class all about the Ordovician Age and trilobites. She lets them know that there are lots of fossils to be found in their own area, due to a warm shallow sea that used to cover their part of Ohio…and they are going to dig for some as a class! Mary Mae is super excited, and is very proud of her finds. She knows she should be sitting out with Shirley Whirly (who goes to Remnant Church of God), but she just can’t. Science seems to pull at her heart. She just can’t understand why her Mama and her Pastor seem so upset when she asks questions. Mama is so upset that she’s getting ready to yank her out of school and teach her at home.

Sandra Dutton has written a gem of a book that explores the faith/science divide. Mary Mae loves her church life, but loves her school life as well. Her Mama’s mind is completely closed, and new information seems to genuinely scare her. Granny is such a breath of fresh air and an amazing character that she quickly became a favourite of mine. She has a thirst for knowledge just like Mary Mae, and she makes Mary Mae feel safe in her explorations. Because of the questioning of faith this book not might find as wide of an audience as it should, but readers will truly enjoy Mary Mae’s journey and her bravery. Dutton has the voice of the family down pat, and I think this could be an important book for those on both sides of the evolution/intelligent design debate.

“No matter what kinds of truth you adhere to, and just how long you think this old world of ours has been around, you’re going to love getting to know Mary Mae and her granny–the songs they sing, and their courage in facing up to the fact that there is no mention of trilobites in Mama’s Bible.”
–Zilpha Keatley Snyder, three-time Newbery Honor Winner and author of The Egypt Game
“Dutton has tackled a thorny subject–creationism versus evolution–in a way that treats both arguments with respect by channeling the whole controversy through the inquiring mind of the disarming and delightful Mary Mae.  And that’s the gospel truth!”
–Amy MacDonald, author of Little Beaver and the Echo
“Sandra Dutton demonstrates here that the quest to integrate faith with the fossil record can be a most enriching experience, and that it is never too early to allow our children to experience the joy of integrating their religious beliefs with a solid science education. This is a delightful — but also serious — work. It will appeal to parents, pastors and educators. We need more works like this.”
–John F. Haught, Ph. D. Georgetown University, author of Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life
“Dutton’s brave book sings out the truth with humor and love.”
–Robin MacCready, winner of the Edgar Award and author of Buried.

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