Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wild and Wonderful Wednesday: Gary D. Schmidt

 I am delighted today to highlight one of my favorite writers.  Gary D. Schmidt not only has a remarkable way with words, but his characters almost seem to leap from his books they are so real.  I first came across his books when I picked up Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won a Newbery honor.  I was stunned at the power of his words.  For those of you who haven't read it, the story revolves around Turner, the son of a minister, who befriends an African American girl who lives on an island off the coast of Turner's hometown and struggles to live up to his father's expectations.  Unfortunately, this friendship causes trouble for Turner and his family and he has to decide where he will stand. A very thought-provoking book about discrimination, courage, friendship, and family. 

Another book of Schmidt's that I loved is The Wednesday WarsHolling Hoodhood is the only student in his seventh-grade class who doesn't go to religion classes on Wednesday afternoons, as a result his teacher, Mrs. Baker has to come up with something for him to do.  At first, she has him help clean the classroom and the chalk board erasers, but finally she sets him to reading The Merchant of Venice, one of Shakespeare's plays.  Holling starts out believing his teacher hates him, but gradually learns otherwise.  Holling also deals with struggles regarding his family and friends and bullies.  Another book that leaves a strong impression and a character the reader can really connect with.

 The book I especially want to highlight today though, is Schmidt's newest book, Okay for Now.
 Okay for Now
by Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, 2011.
Grades 5 and up
Reviewed from purchased copy.
Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam. (Goodreads.com)
This book has received a lot of hype this year in regards to the Newbury, so I was eager to read it myself.  And I quickly realized why there has been so much talk.  The book is told in first person, as was The Wednesday Wars, which is perfect because it allows the reader to see and understand why Doug does and says the things he does.  If the books was told from a third person point-of-view, the book would not be as powerful as it is.  The writing suits a thirteen-year-old with a somewhat limited vocabulary, who has learned to hide his true self because of his difficult home life and the assumptions people make based solely on his appearance and family.  The inclusion of Audobon's paintings is a wonderful touch, as the reader gets a glimpse of how art can be seen in many different ways and how artists make deliberate choices about style and organization in order to influence the viewer.

As always, Schmidt's characterizations are spot on.  The book is like an emotional roller coaster, as the reader vicariously experiences the ups and downs of Doug's life.  There were times I cried.  Times I was so angry I wanted to jump into the book and face off with one of the characters who refuse to give Doug a chance (the principal and the coach, especially).  Then there is Lil, who is willing to give Doug a chance, and Mr. Powell who tutors Doug in his drawing, and Mr. Ferris and Miss Cowper who encourage Doug to let his talents shine.  I love books with good adult mentors.  They are so important in children's lives, especially when the children don't get that at home.

All in all, this book is definitely one of my favorites this year and tops of my list of Newbery hopefuls.  Highly recommended as both a class read-a-loud and a story for teachers to read for themselves. I'm going to go read Schmidt's book Trouble now, the one book of Schmidt's that I haven't read yet.

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