Before the Lark

Written by Irene Bennett Brown
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Born in 1876, Jocelyn Belle Royal lives with problems that few modern American children can imagine, and emotions that resonate today. Her mother died and her father drifted out of her life, so the girl lives with, and labors for, her washerwoman grandmother in Kansas City, Missouri. Jocey was born with a cleft lip; a flaw which can easily be repaired now, but in 1888 she can only endure feeling that her appearance repels everyone around her. She drops out of school before she was twelve because of a problem too common in today’s headlines – bullying by her classmates.

Dreaming that she can reconnect with her father by moving back to the abandoned family farm in Kansas, Jocey also hopes to escape her tormentors on their isolated land. She persuades her sickly grandmother to move there, and then with boundless determination and hard work, brings the ramshackle farm back to life. In the process, Jocey finds new friends, begins to trust and love her neighbors, and also learns that even the worst parts of life can be changed for the better.

Before the Lark, the Spur Award-winning book by Irene Bennett Brown, is a historical novel for young readers. First published in 1982, it is a tale of a bold girl, and her unwavering belief that hard work and persistence can improve her family’s lot in life. Jocey’s faith and grit will appeal to Brown’s readers and provide inspiration to children who also face disapproval and disappointment.