The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail

I facilitate a book group for kids age 10-12, and Friday we discussed Betti on the High Wire. I loved the book so much. It is about a girl in a war torn country who gets adopted by American parents. She is a smart, brave, orphan girl. She is a survivor. She is also a story teller.

Betti is one of many “leftover” kids who lives in an abandoned circus camp. One of the stories she often tells is of her parents, The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail, and her father…the Alligator Man. She longs for the day they come find her.  

I won’t spoil the book for you, but wanted to share something interesting. Out of the five kids (with me making six) all of us had a different picture in our heads of what kind of tail Betti’s mom had.

I envisioned an alligator tail. One child pictured a fox’s tail. One child thought it was a monkey tail. One child envisioned a cat’s tail. Another a lion. Another, a dog’s tail.

Isn’t that something? All of us read the exact same sentences. Each of us envisioned something completely different.

The same could be said for Betti. The author deliberately doesn’t tell you what country she is from and only gives certain physical characteristics. One child thought Betti was blond with a French accent. Some thought she was likely Asian. Of course none of us knew for sure.

Perception is an individual thing.

This book group for 10-12 year olds stays on task better than any adult book group I’ve been part of. Maybe it’s because there is no wine? Such thoughtful discussions we have. 

Two more meetings before our move. Two more books.

We’re really going to miss these wonderful reader/friends. Each with a perspective as unique as Betti’s mother’s imagined tail.

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6 Responses to The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail

  1. Carrie Link says:

    That truly is fascinating!

  2. Sheri says:

    I’m so happy that you liked this as much as we did. She is such an endearing character. I assumed she was from southeast Asia, but it’s true that she wasn’t necessarily.

    I never gave a name in my head to the kind of animal the tail would be like, but I think it would be most like a monkey’s tail, if I had to say. What a great question with an unexpected result. To be honest, it kind of annoyed me through the first part of the book how she always referred to her mother with that whole title, but I imagine when you don’t know your mother at all, you really hold tightly to the little you do know and treasure it.

    You are so gifted at leading them. We are certainly going to miss you, your family and the book club too.

  3. kario says:

    Gives a writer pause to realize that everyone had such different ideas…

  4. What a great idea! I would have loved being part of a book group as a kid. And you’re probably right about staying on task – my adult book group sometimes needs a good border collie to keep us together and heading in the right direction. I do “book of the month” for a girl in this age group so I will find this for her April book. When she’s done reading it I’ll ask her what kind of tail she pictured and where she thought Betti was from.
    Good luck as you pack and plan. Moving is a grand adventure!

  5. Meg says:

    I will have to find this one!

  6. Dear Michelle—

    I’m so flattered that you shared my book with your group. Truly these are fascinating interpretations! I’m now caught thinking about what Betti’s mom’s tail looks like, with more clarity. And I’m trying to imagine Betti’s voice with a French accent! Wow! It’s so wonderful for me to hear feedback from clever readers. (I believe that often writers are left in a vacuum with all the output from me, and little input from my actual readers and supporters). Thanks so much…

    Lisa Railsback

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