(yes, I’m still on summer hiatus, just happen to have some time today)
I had not seen the movie, nor read the book, but because of the movie trailers, I was under the impression this book was a fantasy. It’s not, it’s a very real story about a boy suffering, like any 10 year old would, through feeling different (In his case, artistic) and playing second fiddle to his four sisters in a financially-strapped rural household.
The trailer is deceptive, it makes the story look like some kind of fantasy adventure. I’m not saying I was disappointed in the book, because I wasn’t, I was simply surprised. (on a side note, the screenplay was written by Paterson’s son and the movie is highly acclaimed as a faithful adaptation of the book)
Even though the book feels a bit dated, the emotional content is very real. Two lonely children create an imaginary forest kingdom to help them deal with their difficulties in school, in particular with bullies, for being different (the girl is new to the area and a tom boy). It starts with the boy, Jess Aarons, feeling anxious about entering 5th grade and training to be the fastest runner in the school, something that will give him status. But the new girl, Leslie, joins the race (even though no other girls are allowed), and beats all the boys. After Jess’s initial frustration with her, he realizes she is actually an interesting person and they become friends.Leslie is smart, funny, and outgoing – everything Jess wants to be. Through their friendship and the bravery they exert in their imaginary kingdom, Jess is transformed and learns to let go of many of his fears.
Patterson captures 10 year old emotions quite well. I was a 10-year-old “suffering” from a runaway imagination, so I could definitely relate and know if I had read this as a child I would have enjoyed it immensely.
There is tragedy in the story that I’m not going to give away in case you are one of the few people, like me, who had not read this book. If you read it with your students or children it could lead to some heartfelt discussion.
This is one of the few books I’ve read that I actually wished the author had written more! After the tragedy, I thought the book ended too soon. I wanted to stay with Jess a little bit longer, go a little bit deeper with him.
This is a great book to have on my tool belt for those students who tell me they prefer “real life” stories rather than speculative fiction. The fantasy is all their imagination, which in the movie they obviously bring to life in a magical way.
On a side note, I wanted to say that I really liked the voices of his family, in particular his mother – who seemed to be in that “auto-mother” zone most of the time. You know, repeating her catch phrases out of exhaustion. His snotty older sisters reminded me so much of one of my best friend’s sisters when I was growing up that I had to laugh.
For a list of other MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY books this week, visit Shannon Messenger’s Blog.