|It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts|
Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Wrapped in Foil
I finally got my hands on Jo Knowles’ See You At Harry’s and absolutely loved it. The synopsis, from the jacket copy, reads:
Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. Her dad is always busy planning how to increase traffic to the family business. Her mom is constantly going off to meditate. Her sister Sara, who’s taking a “gap year” after high school, is too busy finding ways not to work; and her brother Holden is too focused on his new “friend” to pay attention to her. And then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, and the center of everyone’s world.
If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s best and oldest friend, there would be nowhere to turn. Ran is always calm, always positive. His mantra “All will be well” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe.
But when their lives are unexpectedly turned upside down, Fern feels more alone than ever, and responsible for the event that wrenches the family apart. All will not be well. Or at least, all will never be the same.
Books with middle schoolers as the main characters are an instant draw for me, my sixth graders want to read books where they can recognize some part of their own daily lives – the tumult of adolescence, the challenges of fitting in and discovering themselves, and the dynamics of family life. Fern is a wonderful main character – she is compassionate, smart and quirky enough to be both endearing and interesting. Actually, the same can be said for all the characters in this book, which is what makes it such a compelling read. Even as Fern tries to fit into middle school and deal with all its “issues,” it’s her family that holds center stage in this book.
I thought that Knowles did a marvelous job in making each family member interesting, and the love they have for one another in spite of problems that arise is heartening to read. Disengaged or downright nasty parents seem to be all too present in so many YA books, and even though this may be “realistic” I think it’s hard for our kids to read about all the time – it all seems so hopeless and scary. One of the main conflicts in the story is how the family reconciles to the knowledge that their 14-year old is gay and wants his family to accept this.
This can be tricky territory for some of us who teach those middle grades. Just listening to the chatter in the cafeteria and in the hallways, I can tell that my kids are puzzling out all the layers within this issue. The word “gay” is used, quite often, in a pejorative way, and this is something we as a faculty need to be alert to and address immediately – we know from all the stories we hear on the news that this sort of bullying leads to tragedy. At the same time, there are parents who might be uncomfortable with their kids reading about this, and would prefer not to have their kids reading this particular book. Even so, Knowles writes so beautifully about all of this, that See You At Harry’s is more about the love and comfort a family’s ties to each other can provide in times of crises than anything else. It’s definitely one that belongs in our classroom library.
On a completely different note, I also read The Camping Trip That Changed America, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordecai Gerstein:
This delightful picture book tells the true story of how the naturalist, John Muir, and the nature loving President, Teddy Roosevelt, joined forces to ensure that their vision of protecting large tracts of America’s wilderness so that they could be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come became a reality. It all began with a letter the President wrote to Muir, asking him to be a camping guide. Roosevelt had read Muir’s Studies in the Sierra, which ends with a plea for the government to step in and save our wilderness.Then:
The president thought about those mountain forests for a long time. Most people, even his own experts, thought America had so much wilderness it couldn’t ever be used up!
Was John Muir right? Could the forests disappear? How could the government help? As president, Teedie needed answers.
The resulting camping trip teaches the president that there is much to preserve, and that action is needed immediately. He is so inspired that under his administration 148 million acres were added to the National Forest and the number of National Parks protected by the government for its people doubled. Gerstein’s beautiful paintings add so much to Rosenstock’s exuberant narrative. Can’t you just feel Roosevelt soaking up Muir’s passion and knowledge for his beloved Yosemite, for instance, in these two pages?
I would use this book as a mentor text for our biography unit of study, but it could also serve as the springboard for a research project on our National Parks, or of the two men, John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, who inspired this wonderful book. Barbara Rosenstalk also has a wonderful webpage with teaching lessons and ideas for this book. Check it out!