Form and Content

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Walk Two Moons is a story within a story. Salamanca Tree Hiddle entertains her unique and charming grandparents on a trip from Ohio to Idaho with the story of Phoebe Winterbottom. Sal’s story about her experiences with Phoebe is intermingled with her first-person narrative of the trip’s events. Sharon Creech presents a deeply moving story told in a simple, straightforward fashion liberally sprinkled with picturesque phrases.

Sal’s mother left their farm in Bybanks, Kentucky, in April; a short time later, they learned that she is never returning. Unable to bear the memories that the farm evoked, Sal’s father moves them to a small house in Euclid, Ohio, where he sells farm machinery and, to Sal’s resentment, spends much of his spare time with his friend Margaret Cadaver. Phoebe Winterbottom, Margaret’s next-door neighbor, soon becomes Sal’s friend and confidante. Later that year, Sal’s grandparents arrive to take her by car from Euclid to Lewiston, Idaho, where her mother is “resting peacefully.” As they begin the trip, Gram Hiddle asks Sal to entertain them with a story, so Sal spins the “extensively strange story” of Phoebe Winterbottom.

Phoebe’s very ordered life with her highly respectable family begins to change the day that a strange young man appears on their doorstep. He asks to see her mother, who has gone shopping. Phoebe, who has been warned about strangers, is convinced that he is a lunatic, and, when her mother disappears sometime later, Phoebe decides that she has been kidnapped by him. Phoebe’s father points out that her mother has left notes for each family member and that the freezer is filled with neatly labeled meals, but Phoebe persists in her belief. Meanwhile, Sal finds herself attracted to Ben, the cousin of another friend, Mary Lou Finney. Ben is staying with Mary Lou’s family, and his mother, too, is missing. Sal and Phoebe trace the “lunatic” to a nearby university, where they see Phoebe’s mother kiss him gently on the cheek. Sal flees and tracks down Ben, who has traveled on the same bus to the university town, at a hospital. Here, she meets his mother, a psychiatric patient. When Phoebe arrives home, she discovers that her mother is returning the next day and is bringing someone with her. That someone turns out to be the “lunatic,” her illegitimate son.

Sal’s story about Phoebe progresses slowly as she and her grandparents drive across the country. Sal is anxious to arrive in Lewiston by her mother’s birthday, but, a hundred miles east, Gram Hiddle has a stroke and is hospitalized. Gramps gives Sal money and the car keys, and Sal drives carefully, as Gramps had taught her, to Lewiston Hill. It is there that her mother’s bus left the road, killing her. A kind sheriff helps Sal find her mother’s grave, and finally Sal can accept that her mother is dead.


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A journey through loss and grief, from childhood to adolescence, from one home to another, are represented by the setting of Walk Two Moons, but the literal setting is a journey from Ohio to Idaho. Sal's trip with her grandparents includes various stops along the way at the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, the Badlands, Yellowstone National Park, and Coeur d'Alene. The purpose of the trip is to revisit the last travels of Sal's mom. Sal's grandparents recognize the need for Sal to experience her mother's last days through this journey. Sal has mixed emotions: she knows she must go and wants to go, and yet she dreads the finality this trip will ultimately bring.

During the trip Sal tells of her adventures with her new friend, Phoebe, her school, and her other friends. Phoebe's story is set in the town of Euclid, Ohio, where Sal and her dad have gone to live. The move for Sal's dad represents the break that he must make as he faces life without his wife. Sal does not understand the need for the move, but her reality of life without her mother comes with her trip. The trip represents the journey she must travel to accept her loss. The trip Sal's mother had taken was for the specific purpose of self-discovery. The story of Phoebe corresponds to Sal's in that Phoebe's mother's disappearance was a journey, in a sense, to find herself.

Another important aspect of the setting is the idea of trees. Sal's mother is of Native American descent and Sal has inherited much of her mother's love of nature and the land. Sal was even named after an Indian tribe and trees. Their farm in Bybanks has special trees on it. Sal has fond memories of her mother and the trees. Trees surround Sugar's gravesite, along with singing birds. Placing her mother in these final surroundings is the final element of the trip that helps Sal accept her mother's death.

The theme of death, loss, and grief are interwoven with the idea of the journey. As Walk Two Moons ends Sal, her dad, and Gramps have come full circle with their move back to the farm in Bybanks, Kentucky.

Literary Qualities

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The humor and sensitivity in which the author reveals a young girl's search for life without her mother makes for a poignant story. Although the topic is a serious one the events surrounding the theme are told in a humorous and mysterious way. Creech's superior ability to write dialogue, combined with the pacing of the story, hold the reader captive to the end of the book. The central character, Salamanca Tree Hiddle's journey is beautifully intertwined with the other characters. These "stories within stories" provide students with an opportunity to speculate and predict how all the stories eventually tie together, and indeed they do.

The author does not directly let the reader know that Sal's mother is dead, although Sal knows her mother is dead. However, looking back over the novel it becomes obvious that Sal's mother is not just gone, but resting eternally. This may cause frustration for some readers. The frustration is overshadowed by the realistic situations Sal and her friends face as they proceed through adolescence. The relationship developed between Sal and her grandparents on the trip is heart warming. Readers will be delighted with Gram and Gramps' quirky ways and Sal's typical teenage response to these ways. Sal considered herself "locked up" with her grandparents for six days on this trip, yet her love for her eccentric grandparents is evident.

Sal's character is strong, independent and determined although she refers to herself as "ornery and stubborn." She doesn't want to take this trip but knows she must. Readers sense the urgency of the trip as Sal hears the quiet of night's rush, rush, rush and the wind's hurry, hurry, hurry. The author gives us a deadline of Sugar's birthday for Sal to get to her mother. This deadline adds to the sense of urgency and suspense that is revealed as the story of Phoebe Winterbottom unfolds.

Creech uses her fascination with Native American ways in the novel with the messages left on the Winterbottom's front porch. This influence is also evident in the wind speaking to Sal and the importance of nature, particularly trees. Even the title, Walk Two Moons, refers to understanding people by putting yourself in their shoes; not judging. This is developed as Sal "walks" in her mother's shoes, in Phoebe's shoes, in her dad's shoes, and in Ben's shoes. It is through this process that Sal is able to make sense of her own "shoes" that she must walk in.

Social Sensitivity

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At first the novel seems to be about living without a parent because the parent has chosen to leave the family. This is certainly the case with Mrs. Winterbottom, Phoebe' mother. However, Sal reveals her jealously that Mrs. Winterbottom did return to her family. For most of the story the reader is left to wonder why Sal's mother has left. The author gradually lets the reader in on what Sal has known all along, when Sal's mother left she never intended it to be permanent. Sal's mother has been in an accident and has not survived. Her death has perhaps been present throughout the book through subtle clues about Sal's mother absence. This approach preserves the reality of Sal's problem with believing her mother is truly not coming back.

Mrs. Winterbottom has left her family because her illegitimate son has found her. She is faced with the dilemma of wanting to know her son, revealing her imperfections and giving up her perfect mother routine. As Mrs. Winterbottom returns to her family her outward appearance, which is neither good nor bad, alerts her family to changes.

Death and loss and the resulting changes are all presented in a sensitive, non-threatening form as a natural part of life. Tolerance, acceptance and understanding of people's behavior while working through difficult situations are also powerful aspects of the novel.

For Further Reference

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Creech, Sharon, "Newbery Medal Acceptance." Boston, MA: Horn Book, (July/August, 1995). Articles feature the author's acceptance papers and related materials.

Essay in Seventh Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators. Sally Holmes Holtze, ed. New York: Wilson, 1996. The follow up edition to the sixth volume contains more than two hundred sketches of authors, illustrators, and a translator of children's books who have come to prominence since the publication of Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators.

Krementz, Jill. How It Feels When a Parent Dies. New York: Knopf, 1981. Eighteen young people (7-16 years old) who have lost a parent discuss questions, fears, and grief.

Rylant, Cynthia. Missing May. New York: Orchard Books, 1992. Summer and her uncle leave their West Virginia trailer after the death of Summer's beloved aunt. Their search results in the strength to go on living after the loss of their loved one.

Something About the Author, Vol. 94. Detroit: Gale Research, 1971. The volumes feature facts and pictures about contemporary authors and illustrators of books for young people.

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