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Posts Tagged ‘homelessness’

We can easily be unaware or forget how strong kids have to be sometimes, or to remember how strong even we needed to be at certain points growing up. I don’t know anyone who had a totally blissful childhood, and even those who claim to have had one? It becomes apparent in further conversations or getting to know someone better that that’s the way they prefer to see it or maybe need to see it. We all have had our share of problems and pain growing up – some more, some less.

AlmostHome-JBauer2But if we were lucky, we had something or someone to hold onto – a best friend, a pet, a trusted teacher or adult, or a passion that saved us. And that was the saving grace of Sugar Mae Cole.

Reading Almost Home by Joan Bauer, reminded me of how some kids need to be the strong ones, maybe even the parents, when really all they want and need is their parents to take care of them. In this middle grade novel, Sugar and her mother Reba found themselves evicted and homeless. Sugar’s father, who she refers to as Mr. Leeland, failed repeatedly to be responsible to his family, gambling all their money away instead. Sugar, 12 years old, got it. Her mother, in her delusion, still believed he was their knight in shining armor who was always going to come through, but never did.

The story at first reminded me of Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle, her autobiography, in which her mother always believed that everything was going to turn out just fine.  She chose to see and never failed to point out the bright side in everything to her children even though they were suffering horribly. In either case, being the adult is a lot to ask of a kid when one or both parents aren’t grounded in reality.

Almost Home was a great story that drew me in the more I read. Sugar accepted a puppy name Shush from another little girl who foisted him upon her because her father was abusing him. Shush became an important constant in Sugar’s life, as pets often do for a child. The unconditional love offered by an animal is a phenomenally powerful form of healing. Sugar had something else – she wrote. She wrote poetry about what was happening in her life, and she wrote thank you letters to people frequently. She believed in the sweetness in life, though she found herself often struggling to find it during this time. She also had a teacher who believed in her and kept in touch even though Sugar and Reba had moved away.

What made this story such a winner is that I could easily relate to Sugar. I’m sure her reading audience does as well. One doesn’t have to be homeless to understand conflict and loss. Holding on to your dreams and hope in the midst of it all is the challenge, and getting to know this young heroine who wasn’t about to give up is what made this read so worthwhile.

 

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ManiacMagee-JSpinelli2How did Jerry Spinelli manage to cover the subjects of race, homelessness, bullying, friendship and the loneliness of the elderly all in one middle grade novel AND do it with humor, insight and compassion? This book was a revelation to me, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants an excellent, (and fast), read even though it’s hero is 12 year old Jeffrey (Maniac) Magee.

I began to read Maniac Magee and found quickly that Maniac was into sports – how fast he could run, how far he could throw a football – and I thought it might not be for rather unsporty me. Was I wrong. It’s not about sports; it’s about an orphaned kid on his own who encounters a variety of life’s toughest situations, (aside from losing his parents), and how he deals with them. He finds more than his share of challenges, some friends and/or admirers along the way, and some pretty scary antagonists. Maniac/Jeffrey loses some of his naiveté but his optimism always prevails.

Spinelli writes in a beyond-engaging style. His word choices and phrases and his sense of humor had me turning the pages and never wanting to put the book down. Every character is developed beautifully, but of course, especially Maniac. It’s no wonder this book earned Spinelli a Newbery Award.

And what’s also surprising is that although Maniac Magee was written in 1995, it is totally contemporary. Somehow Spinelli wrote a timeless tale – almost a folk tale or legend – that is as meaningful right now – maybe even more so – as it was back then. I am in awe of this author and in love with this story. Walk – no, run – to your library or bookstore and get Maniac Magee.

p.s. I have also read Stargirl, Eggs and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli – all worthwhile reads as well.

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