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Isolated mountain boy meets girl, loses girl, and decides to stay on the mountain. If you want the crux of M.C. Higgins, the Great, well, that's about it.
But that doesn't nearly scratch the surface of what goes on in our main man M.C.'s head throughout Virginia Hamilton's 1974 book. You'll be tempted to view the story as a boy-grows-up narrative, and it is that. But because M.C. already has so much independence and responsibility at the beginning of the book (he's got a bunch of younger siblings to look after while his parents work all day), the story reads more like an in-depth look at what a mature teenaged boy worries and thinks about.
And what does he worry about? Hint: survival, family, friendship. That girl. Oh—and legacy.
Why legacy? Because M.C.'s real struggle has to do with his place on the family mountain. Yep, you read right: His family owns a mountain, the mountain his ancestors fled to in order to escape slavery a few generations back.
Only the Higgins aren't the only ones on the mountain anymore, and strip-mining companies are turning the mountain into an environmental nightmare. So even though you can classify this book as a teen romance or a boy-meets-world story, it's really all about a boy and his relationship with—no, scratch that—his commitment to a mountain.
So throw on some hiking boots and pack some granola because it's time to commune with Nature, big-time. Need a little boost to get you going? M.C. Higgins, the Great earned Hamilton the John Newbery Medal, making her the first African American person to receive this honor, and it's also the only book to ever win the Newbery Medal, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the National Book Award (source). Now get a move on.
Psst… Come here. We've got a secret to tell you: We aren't perfect. And you know what? Sometimes we really hate it when people point this out to us. Like, simmer down already and just leave us alone with our awesome selves, okay?
But you know what else? After reading M.C. Higgins, the Great, we're not feeling so… er… great about this tactic. Because here's the thing: M.C. fancies himself pretty spectacular. And there are plenty of ways in which he's right—the kid's got all kinds of nature skills and sixth senses and the like, plus he basically runs the show on the home front, taking care of his siblings while his parents work away.
But M.C.'s also kind of a jerk. He likes his best friends meek, his lady crushes to let him do whatever he wants with them, and he thinks his super nice neighbors are just too weird to show kindness toward. In other words, for all the ways in which M.C. knows he's the shmoop, well, we get to see that he isn't.
So we're trying a different tack, and the next time someone tries to tell us that maybe that thing we just did or those words we just said actually aren't so awesome, instead of deciding they're wrong, we're going to think for at least a little on whether they just might be right. After all, once M.C. lets other influence him, he pretty much saves the day.
The Official Virginia Hamilton Website
Hamilton isn't just about M.C. Higgins, and she has a whole website to prove it.
Songs of the Appalachians
Want to hear what some of the stuff Banina sings sounds like? Here you go.
M.C. Higgins, the Great—the Movie
There is a movie version of the book out there somewhere (although you might have to go hunting for it). It's from the 1980s.
The Scholastic Kids Interview
These kids aren't afraid to get personal with Virginia Hamilton, so this interview covers all kinds of turf.
What Does a Professor Think?
Feeling more academic? Here's an excerpt of a review of the book, from a professor of Children's Literature.
A Kirkus Review
A brief, general, but solid review of the book.
New York Times Review
Warning: This gives a terrible scanned copy of an old NY Times review of the book, but if you're willing to wrestle with the type, it's worth your while.
All About Virginia Hamilton, the Writer
A quick two-minute-ish video about Virginia Hamilton's writing career.
What does Virginia Hamilton have to do with "liberation literature"? Find out here.
More Video Clips on Hamilton
Kid-friendly clips on Hamilton's life and books, including biographical information, photos, and more.
A Three-Minute Story Break
There's nothing more relaxing than listening to an old man reading a good book aloud—slowly. Too bad the reading is only about three minutes long.
The Current Cover
The book has had so many covers, but this here's a pretty recent one.
The Standard Cover
Here's what the 25th anniversary edition's cover looks like—check out M.C. on top of his pole.
M.C. and the Mountain
Here's another version of the cover, with M.C. on top of his pole (again) but with some mountain scenery too.
M.C. Between Two People
An old, but interesting, cover for the book.