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 religious denominations.
Age Group: 8 and up
Genre: Middle Grade Reader
Themes: Christianity, The Bible, Evolution, Fossils, Education, Relationship
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt