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Table of Contents
About The Book
“I loved Blue Skies so much I couldn’t bear for it to end!” —Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Honor author of Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods
“A tender story of grief and the gentle comfort of loved ones.” —Kirkus Reviews
“An intimate account of grief and longing…sympathetically drawn.” —Booklist
For fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Louisiana’s Way Home, this heartwarming novel tells the story of ten-year-old Glory Bea as she prepares for a miracle of her very own.
Glory Bea Bennett knows that miracles happen in Gladiola, Texas, population 3,421. After all, her grandmother—the best matchmaker in the whole county—is responsible for thirty-nine of them.
Now, Glory Bea needs a miracle of her own.
The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned home from the front in France. Glory Bea understands what Mama and Grams and Grandpa say—that Daddy died a hero on Omaha Beach—yet deep down in her heart, she believes Daddy is still out there.
When the Gladiola Gazette reports that one of the boxcars from the Merci Train (the “thank you” train)—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in Gladiola, she just knows Daddy will be its surprise cargo.
But miracles, like people, are always changing, until at last they find their way home.
MIRACLES HAPPEN in Gladiola, Texas, population 3,421.
And since Grams is responsible for thirty-nine so far, I’m counting on her gift to run in the family. After all, she always says, “Have audacious expectations.”
I want a miracle of my very own.
You see, my grams is the best matchmaker in the county. Her Wall of Fame proves it. Thirty-nine gold-framed photos of couples on their wedding days, including Mama and Daddy, fill our study wall. That averages out to one per year since she and Grandpa walked down the aisle. Some folks say it’s a hobby. Grams says it’s a calling.
Even though I’m only in fifth grade, and I don’t know much about boys, and I’ve never made a match, I am positive that my best friend, Ruby Jane Pfluger, needs my help.
After all, she asked.
Call it destiny. Call it crazy. I answered the call.
Glory Bea Bennett, matchmaker extraordinaire, was born.
“Happily ever after,” says Ruby Jane as we amble up the red carpet at the end of the Saturday picture show. She twists a lock of her cinnamon-colored hair around her finger. “That’s how Ben Truman and I will live. Right?”
Once Daddy comes home, my family will too.
Ruby Jane’s seen more movies than anyone else I know, and her favorites always end that way. Which is why today’s feature didn’t make her top ten. Ruby Jane’s big dream makes sense. Can I guarantee it? I don’t think Grams dares to make that whopper of a promise. “Wouldn’t that be great?” I reply.
My answer must be good enough, because I swear I can see all of the braces in my best friend’s mouth.
I can imagine Ruby Jane and Ben, my next-door neighbor, together, with their photograph displayed on my own Wall of Fame in my bedroom. Except her request is not without its challenges.
“Shy” doesn’t begin to explain my naive friend.
Ben was king of his sixth-grade back-to-school dance this fall and Delilah Wallingham was the queen. Now Ruby Jane aims to take Delilah’s place.
“Let me ask you something,” I say as I catch a whiff of fruity bubble gum while we pass the next row of seats. “Have you talked to Ben? I mean, had a real conversation with him?”
“Of course. Every time… almost every time I see him.”
“?‘Hi, Ben’ is not a conversation, Ruby Jane.”
“I know,” she says, her forehead all wrinkly. “Now it’s our first day of Christmas break, and I won’t have a chance for more than two weeks.”
“Don’t worry. I believe in you and your sixth-grade heartthrob. I already have a plan. It starts right now. Today is Ben’s first day at the soda fountain.”
“I knew I could count on you, Glory Bea,” says my closest friend, and she sprints ahead.
Miracle number forty, here we come.
And, I hope, a top-secret forty-first miracle too.
I stop halfway up the red carpet and clutch the charm bracelet Daddy handed me at the train station before he left.
I rub its shamrock for luck, close my eyes, and picture Daddy’s big smile.
I refuse to believe what they say about him.
When you love someone, you never give up hope.
“Hurry up, Glory Bea,” hollers Ruby Jane, and I open my eyes. My friend is only two steps away from the lobby. The smell of warm buttery popcorn fills the theater from the concession stand out front.
“On my way,” I say.
But not before I pray for the umpteenth time for my family’s happily ever after.
All the men in our town who went to the war came back.
They say my daddy was lost in France on a beach called Omaha.
I am still waiting for him to be found.
Reading Group Guide
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By Anne Bustard
About the Book
The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned home from France. Glory Bea understands what Mama, Grams, and Grandpa say—that Daddy died a hero on Omaha Beach—yet, deep down in her heart, she believes that Daddy is still out there. When she hears that one of the boxcars from the Merci (or “thank you”) Train—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in her town of Gladiola, Texas, she just knows that her daddy will be its surprise cargo.
1. Blue Skies is historical fiction. Have you read any other novels in this genre? How do you feel about stories that are based on real events? Does that change your reading experience, or how you view the characters? Please explain your answers.
2. Describe the book’s time period. How can you tell that it’s set during a specific time? Please explain your answer using examples from the text. How does it affect the novel’s events? Have you read other historical fiction or nonfiction books about WWII? What elements would you like to know more about?
3. If you were to write a historical fiction story, what time period would you set it in? What periods in history are the most interesting to you? Please explain your answer. What books or articles have you read about these time periods? Where would you go to find more information?
4. Who is your favorite character in the book? Who most reminds you of someone in your own life? Discuss some of the character descriptions. Do you think people have similar character traits across time periods?
5. If you lived in Glory Bea’s town during this time, what would you miss most about your current life? What would you be most excited to experience?
6. Talk about how Ben’s loss differs from Glory Bea’s. Which do you think would be harder—to never see your father again, or to have him return as a different man? Why do you think war might cause someone to change? What do you think might have happened to Mr. Truman?
7. Gladiola, Texas has a population of 3,421. Do you know the population of your town? How far are you from the nearest city? Talk about some of the ways that big cities and small towns are different. Do you prefer one over the other? Please explain your answers. Do you think the plot of Blue Skies would have changed if Glory Bea had lived in a larger town?
8. On New Year’s Eve, Glory Bea’s family spends the evening at home, waiting for midnight. What do they do for entertainment? What does this tell you about their relationships or their lifestyle? How does this differ from how some families celebrate today? Does your family have a New Year’s Eve tradition?
9. For most of the book, Glory Bea is certain that her father will return home. It was not unusual for WWII orphans to sustain this fantasy. How did you feel about her beliefs? Were you hopeful, or were you afraid she would be disappointed? If you were Glory Bea’s friend, what would you have said to her? Please explain your answers.
10. Ruby Jane refers to Glory Bea’s father, asking, “‘What if he’s gone for good?’” Do you think Ruby Jane is right to be honest? Do you think Ruby Jane is trying to be a good friend? How does Glory Bea react? What would you have done if you were in Ruby Jane’s shoes?
11. Grams says that her matchmaking is “a calling.” What does she mean by that? Do you agree with her analysis? Please explain your answer. What do you think are the differences between a calling and a hobby? Give examples from your own experiences, or from those of family and friends.
12. Did you suspect the reason for Glory Bea’s rocky attempt at matchmaking? Would you ever try to play matchmaker for one of your friends? How might that turn out? Have you learned any tips or pitfalls from Glory Bea’s experiences?
13. Discuss how the author introduces us to Daddy without ever allowing us to meet him. What do we learn about him from Glory Bea, Grams, and Randall Horton? Do you feel like you have a full picture of what he was like? Please explain your answer.
14. Why does Glory Bea dislike Randall Horton? Do you agree with Grams when she says, “‘No matter how much you don’t like someone, you can always discover one thing about them to appreciate?’” What might you tell Glory Bea to appreciate about Randall Horton? What might he appreciate about Glory Bea?
15. How does patriotism play a part in this story? Give examples from the text. What does patriotism mean to Glory Bea? What does it mean to you? Compare patriotism in Gladiola with contemporary America. How does each place demonstrate patriotism?
16. Can you name some of the French words used in the book? How did you use context to determine their meanings? Had you heard any of them before? What other French words or phrases do you know, or would like to learn?
17. Glory Bea is thrilled when she thinks she spots her daddy in the newsreel about the Merci Train. Do you know what a newsreel is? Discuss how different it would be to get most of your news from the radio or newsreels. How do you and your family get news of world events?
18. At the beginning of the book, readers learn one of Grams’s expressions: “Have audacious expectations.” What does audacious mean? How might you have audacious expectations? Talk about the benefits and dangers of expecting things will turn out for the best. If Glory Bea hadn’t been expecting her daddy to arrive on the Merci Train, do you think she could have avoided disappointment? Or was it important for her to have that hope?
1. Write an essay about how the author exhibits the theme of “blue skies” throughout the book. Give examples from the text to support your conclusions.
2. The book’s bibliography includes many articles and books about the real Merci Train. Choose a state other than Texas; then research and write a report about the Merci Train’s visit and the gifts distributed there. How are other experiences similar to or different from Glory Bea’s?
3. Reread chapters forty and forty-one and then write an essay about how the author uses the parade setting to reflect some of the book’s themes.
4. Pretend you are a reporter for the Gladiola Gazette and write an article about the Merci Train’s visit. Which facts would you include? Who in the town would you interview? What kind of emotions are you hoping to evoke?
5. Research and write a report about the WWII battle at Omaha Beach, where Glory Bea’s father died. What information are you most surprised about? Which information was hardest to read?
6. Make a poster advertising the arrival of the Merci Train in Gladiola. Bonus for using the French flag, the Texas flag, and some French words! Hang the posters in your classroom, and discuss the various interpretations.
7. Pretend you are Glory Bea and write an entry in your diary about Randall Horton on the day that he uses the special family wave.
Guide written by Bobbie Combs, a consultant at We Love Children's Books.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes. For more Simon & Schuster guides and classroom materials, please visit simonandschuster.net or simonandschuster.net/thebookpantry.
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (March 16, 2021)
- Length: 240 pages
- ISBN13: 9781534446076
- Grades: 3 - 7
- Ages: 8 - 12
- Lexile ® 630L The Lexile reading levels have been certified by the Lexile developer, MetaMetrics®
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- Age 4 - 8
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- Age 12 and Up
- Lexile ® 591 - 690
- Children's Fiction > Social Themes > Death, Grief, Bereavement
- Children's Fiction > Family > Stepfamilies
- Children's Fiction > Social Situations > Death & Dying
- Children's Fiction > Historical > United States > 20th Century
Awards and Honors
- Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Junior Title
- Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title
- TX Triple Crown Nominee
- South Carolina Children's Book Award Nominee
Resources and Downloads
High Resolution Images
Book Cover Image (jpg): Blue Skies
Trade Paperback 9781534446076
Author Photo (jpg): Anne Bustard
Photograph by Sam Bond(0.1 MB)
Any use of an author photo must include its respective photo credit
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