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Mary Mae And The Gospel Truth

by Sandra Dutton
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
  • Publishing date: 28/06/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780547249667
  • ISBN: 0547249667


Product Description
Ten-year-old Mary Mae loves to sing hymns with her Granny, go to Sunday School, and learn about trilobites. She has lots of questions about how the earth looked millions of years ago. Trouble is, Mary Mae's mother thinks it's wrong to believe the world is that old. Mama believes God created it six thousand years ago and she believes that nobody should teach Mary Mae otherwise. When Mary Mae starts taking her questions to church, asking how God created the earth in six days or how eight people could take care of animals on an ark, Mama puts her foot down: homeschooling. Mary Mae must decide where her loyalties lie: with science and Miss Sizemore, with God and Mama, or somewhere in the middle.

Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from Sandra Dutton, Author of Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth

Dear Amazon Reader,

Just for fun, I decided to make the puppets that appear in Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth. The kids in Mary Mae's Sunday School class used balsa wood for heads, but you can't get balsa wood any more--except in strips (the story takes place in 1988), so I used big blocks of florist foam. It carves easily with a kitchen knife. I sliced off all the hard edges, making it rounder, and dug out a finger hole with the point of the knife. I didn't want to carve too much because the kids in the story had no tools to do good carving and basically painted their characters' faces onto a flat side. I used what I carved away to make noses and ears, gluing them on, and then painting--first two coats of white latex, then the face, using acrylic paint.

You'll notice Mrs. Noah has blue hair. That's because it was the only color of yarn Mary Mae's mother had.

--Sandra Dutton

A Q&A with Sandra Dutton, Author of Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth

Q: Did you have the whole story in your head before you began writing Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth?

A: Quite the opposite. I never write from an outline, just fragments of ideas I hope to explore. In this case, I had an image of a mother and daughter racing along in a car distributing "Jesus Saves" stickers. Granny wasn’t in this image but she became a part of the story. I was hoping to use a puppet show. I didn't know where, but I love puppet shows and was hoping to work one in. The fossils I didn't discover until later. I had Mary Mae digging up a mastodon--which had actually been found a few blocks from my grade school in 1966--but I quickly decided smaller fossils were more interesting for my story. I didn't know much about the Cincinnati Arch until I started this, either. I'm never sure where I'm going, which is the way I like to write.

Q: This book takes place in DeSailles, Ohio. Where is DeSailles?

A: It's a fictional town in southwestern Ohio, based on my hometown of Norwood, a city of 25,000 surrounded by Cincinnati. The remarkable part of the area is its deep history--it rests on the Cincinnati Arch--a wide strata of Ordovician rock that was pushed up by geological forces. Ordovician rock is very old and usually buried, so what you have when this is exposed are ancient fossils--trilobites, for example, 450 million years old, which Mary Mae is digging up. These are pre-dinosaur--can you imagine that? The rocks that would hold the dinosaur bones have been worn away so what you have is something earlier.

Q: Did you hunt for fossils as a kid?

A: I was always aware of the seashells in the stones in our yards--you know, the rocks people use for tepping stones or a retaining wall or a fish pond. I remember seeing all that sealife and knowing that our area was once buried by sea water. But I was not aware these shells could be cut out with a chisel. We did not study fossils in school, even though they were all around us. Earth science and evolution were "off-limits" in science classes until the late sixties when textbook publishers began putting these subjects back in the science books. But I missed all that, going to school in the 1950s & '60s. Science for us consisted of plant and animal study, memorizing the bones of the body, and looking at weather patterns.

Q: Are the characters based on people you know?

A: Miss Sizemore is similar to a fifth grade teacher I had, Miss Behrman. She took us up to the highest point of our town, up by the water towers, and showed us where the Ohio River used to flow, before the glacier pushed it south. This was all on the spur of the moment. It gave me goose bumps, just the idea of reaching back into time and understanding how it was. She knew quite a bit about the history of the area, about corduroy roads and Indian paths and passed it on incidentally--not as part of our school lessons but as conversation. I loved that sort of thing. So yes, Miss Sizemore is based on Miss Behrman though we did not do any fossil digging in her class. The other characters are made up, though I once heard a talk by a minister with no arms. He visited our youth group and showed how he did various things, such as eating a doughnut off his big toe.

Q: Have you ever attended a church like the one in the story?

A: I grew up attending a Presbyterian church where my father was Sunday School superintendent and my mother taught the junior highs. They were also members of the church session. But I often visited other churches. For a time I went to a Baptist church with a friend and we rode the church bus together. Several years ago I saw a sign for a revival on a storefront church in my hometown and attended that service. Everyone, including the minister, had incredible voices, and they sang old gospel songs accompanied by electric guitar. I think that's where I got the idea for the Remnant Church of God.

Q: What is the significance of the quote from James Still's Sporty Creek at the beginning of the book: "I've heard they teach the earth is round," Saul said, "and such a claim goes against scripture."

A: It illustrates a fear of science, which is a theme throughout Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth. Mama, Shirley Whirly, and the Sunday School teacher, Brother Lucas, all have faith so shaky that if they hear something that contradicts scripture, their belief system is in danger of falling apart. Like Saul in the James Still story, they are completely dependent on a literal interpretation of scripture. They want to believe Genesis is fact. But the Bible was written thousands of years ago by people who were trying to make sense of their world, who did not have access to the information we have today. We now know that the universe was created not in six days but in billions of years, so our creation story needs to be modified. We can still appreciate the poetry of Genesis and its illustration of power and love. But Genesis is not a science lesson. Mary Mae realizes this.

Q: Do you believe stories are important?

A: Yes. I think we pick up behaviors from people in stories. I consider Mary Mae a good role model. She's uncomfortable with something she's been told and wants to know more. Yet her parents and the people at her church don’t want her asking questions. I'm happy she's a brave kid who rocks the boat. I want kids to see that even when everyone thinks they're wrong--and Mary Mae doesn't seem to have anyone in her corner at home and in church except Granny--that it's okay to voice your objections and be true to yourself, to listen to that little voice that says, "Hey, wait a minute. How can this be true?" or "What do I really believe?"

Q: What is the most important idea or thought you would like readers to have after reading your book?

A: That a fascination with science and our beginnings need not preclude belief in a higher power--God, the Universe, whatever you prefer to call it. Fundamentalists on either side (both religion and science) tell children they must make a choice. But Mary Mae puts them both together. Seeing a litte crab swimming around in a restaurant tank, she says, "I know just by watching that crab that my trilobite was alive, whether Mama thinks so or not. I know the Lord loved that trilobite as much as he loves this crab." And when she hears Miss Sizemore's description of the Big Bang, she says, "Sounds like Creation to me." That's what I would like readers to remember.

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  • Science Fundamentally
    From Amazon

    Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth, by Sandra Dutton, is a 129 page, fast read book about a 10 year old girl that is conflicted between what she is learning in school regarding fossils and her Fundamentalist working mother. The story takes place in Ohio amongst the trilobites and Ohio Arch. The busy mother has no time to dissect the Bible but her inquisitive daughter has questions. Mother finds it easier to believe the simplified Fundamentalist biblical concepts. Nothing is more than 6000 years old. Granny is more laid back. She thinks God was in no rush. Time doesn't matter, "ain't something we can pin down that good". Granny plays her guitar and makes up songs with Mary Mae about trilobites. Mary Mae tries to count the 20 year intervals of begats in the Bible but gets confused because some didn't have children until into their 100's. Were fossils placed to "trick us"? Dad doesn't want to go to church if that were the case, as mom says. How does Mary Mae resolve the issues? She likes Church but has questions. She loves to listen to her teacher and absorb the amazing history of life but her mother wants to withdraw her from school. The characters in the puppet show and on the stage of life help resolve Mary Mae's conflicts. Actually, Granny is probably the sage of the story. I would have told Pastor Tillsbury that opinions are fine but science rules. Through acceptance of belief variations, in a literalist philosophy, Mary Mae now has the backing she needs to study science and spread the word. She knows that Fundamentally, religion is not science, but religion could still be a Fundamental part of her life. I am out there every week discussing evolution so I really enjoyed reading this book and also liked its trilobite poem and its interview with a trilobite. Valerie First

  • Balance
    From Amazon

    Sandra Dutton's Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is for every child possessing a curious mind and a faithful soul. Dutton deftly and delightfully navigates the defining theological questions of our age - creationism verses evolution and literalism verses science - in a gently balanced manner leaves the final answer and a 1000 questions to her young readers.

  • Allows a Dialogue
    From Amazon

    What I like about this book is that it isn't a flat-out argument for evolution nor a slamming of creationism. It is inclusive and respectful of ideas from both sides. It addresses thoughts we all have but which have sometimes been taboo to discuss, and allows us to enter into a dialogue. You can see Mary Mae, who's fascinated by fossilized "scientific evidence", trying to fit what she's learning into her fundamentalist world. One of my favorite lines is Mary mae's exclaiming, after her teacher describes the birth of the universe 15 billion years ago, "Sounds like Creation to me...".

  • A True Treasure for Our Trying Times
    From Amazon

    Sandra Dutton has weaved an essential story, for children and adults, as she has spun a tale focused on the varied truths of our gospels and of our disparate biblical traditions. This book is timely, as now more than ever we need to bridge the chasm between literalists with John 3:16 stickers and liberals with no set moral compass. Young Mary Mae loved her evangelical church where "you can get up and sing and say what you're thankful for," as contrasted with her friend's church "where "we just set quiet on a wooden seat except when we sung songs." Mary Mae, bred on the literal word, constantly questioned the meaning of the words and context of her Bible. More like Granny, Mary Mae turned to music and the arts to express her faith, her quests, and her love. Her Mama, a narrow biblical literalist, was stymied by Mary Mae's inquisitiveness and learning about ancient fossils which, like dinosaurs, did not appear in even Noah's Ark. A visiting pastor saved the day, touting fossils and ignoring precise timelines. Mary Mae remarked near the end about the Beatitudes, "It's like a list of playground rules, only you don't get just a rule, you get a blessing and a promise." More of us should view the Bible, our lives, and compassion in a similar way: "You don't get just a rule, you get a blessing and a promise." All of us, both children and adults, need to read this book and take to heart these playground rules with blessings and promises. We all have so much compassion in common and in community. Sandra Dutton perceives this common ground and middle way and lovingly embraces the virtues and blessings in evangelism and ecumenism. And her story is as fun and entertaining as it is thoughtful and revealing. Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth is a true treasure for our trying times.

  • An Invitation into a World of Literal Faith, Music and Love
    From Amazon

    This is 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 "Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth," a novella for young readers by Sandra Dutton. And frankly, this book is so good that adults will enjoy it, too. I certainly did. "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. Perhaps because she represents all the creative fire of 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. 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 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.

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