Unfortunately, the voice used by Mr. Madison didn't ring true for me. I have known many seven and eight year old girls (and boys, for that matter), and none of them would have used the words "possessions" or "Southern drawl", nor would they have made observations about their mothers' "weak smile." There were many of these grown-up sounding turns of phrase and use of vocabulary which interrupted my suspension of disbelief.
Esmerelda Swishback McCarther, Esme to everyone, is our protagonist. In addition to her Army-sergeant father, she has a reporter mother and a little brother, Ike. In her travels around the world with her family, Esme has acquired an extensive "bedzoo" of stuffed animals covering the alphabet from A to Z.
When her father gets his orders to go away for three months, Esme and her family are saddened. Her mother...--except for X because there is no animal I have found that begins with that troublesome letter. The only words I know that even start that way are xylophone, x-ray, and x-actly.
Without Daddy there to guide the family through its daily routine, the family feels out of sorts. Ike gets into a fight at school with his best friend, and the principal calls Esme into her office along with Ike. Ms. Pershing "would prefer not to worry your mom about this. Is this something you two can solve?" (Honestly, can you imagine a principal saying this to an eight-year-old and her five-year-old brother?) At any rate, during their walk home from school, Ike admits he "broke his duty" when he broke the rules. This leads both children to confess to each other how much they miss their dad....must have been crying and looked like she was going to start to cry again, but she didn't. It was her duty not to cry in front of us. So I did my duty and I didn't cry in front of Ike, and since I didn't--Ike didn't.
At school, Esme learns about the "Home Front" of WW II, and wishes there was something she and her classmates could do to help. They discuss and discard many ideas before settling on a few that they feel will make a difference to help the troops fighting overseas. The kids and their families accomplish quite a few of their goals, thanks to Esme's inspiration and persistence.
However, even when she has a bad dream and can't go back to sleep, Esme still cannot voice her feelings to her mother. Her mother tells her she's a hero for all she's done and for how brave she's been and that she deserves a medal. Esme says,
Her mother doesn't prompt her to finish, instead saying, "Before you know it he'll be the one tucking you in." Eleven pages later, he is."I don't want a medal. I just want..." And I stopped, barely letting "want" dribble out. I figured that saying what I wanted wasn't necessary and wouldn't be at all brave.
On the whole? A nice book. But, with all its flaws, not one which deserves the South Carolina Book Award, in any category.