August 21, 2017

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:38 am by suebe2

by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar Straus and Giroux

When eleven year-old Charlie Reese gets shipped off, she has no idea what to expect.  The family services woman says these folks are her aunt and uncle but Charlie has never even heard of them. So she shows up with a fiery hot temper. She’s sure she gets it from her daddy who goes by Scrappy.  His temper may very well be why he’s in the local correctional facility. Again.

Charlie hates school because she is surrounded by kids with real families.  There are kids whose brothers and sisters go to the school.  Kids whose mamas slip notes in their lunch boxes.  All Charlie has is a backpack buddy – Howard.

Charlie doesn’t understand Howard.  He rather read or do a cross word puzzle than run or explore.  But maybe that makes sense since one leg is shorter than the other, giving him an odd up and down walk. Aunt Bertha describes Howard and his kin as good-hearted but Charlie doesn’t get it.  Why doesn’t he get mad when the other kids make fun of his walk?  He doesn’t even seem happy when she stands up for him and even gets in a fight.


But maybe his heart is a good thing.  Cause he doesn’t get mad when Charlie lashes out.  He spends all kinds of time helping her catch a stray hound that she’s nicknamed Wishbone.  In fact, every one seems to be helping.  Howard helps her build a huge box trap.  Bertha gives her meatloaf for bait.  Uncle Gus brings home a collar.  It’s like they all believe in her.

But Charlie only has faith in one thing. That if she wishes every day for long enough her wish will come true.  She’s been wishing for years and it is bound to happen sooner or later.  And when it does, she’ll finally have someplace to belong.

I seem to have stumbled across a number of books lately that explore family and home (see Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk and Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski). Although the themes may be similar, the books are as different as different can be.  Wish is a contemporary novel set in rural North Carolina.  It isn’t as dark as Beyond the Bright Sea sometimes feels although both are for a middle grade audience.  That said, I think Wish is for slightly younger readers than Beyond the Bright Sea. 

It isn’t surprising that the first one Charlie bounds with is a stray dog.  After all, she doesn’t feel like she belongs and this feeling will  resonate with young readers whether they are struggling to fit in at home or at school.

Read it and get ready for some powerful discussions about what it means to fit in and the best definition of family.


January 6, 2011

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:52 pm by suebe2

The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

by Barbara O’Connor

AR 4.7

Frances Foster Books

I have to admit that the first thing that caught my attention with this particular book was the cover — two kids in a mini-sub pursuing a swimming frog.  Incidentally, that would have been me on the left (in awe but apprehensive) while my husband (the one thinking “oh cool!”) is on the right.

But more about these similarities later.

Owen Jester is in a bit of a mood.  His father has lost his job so he and his family have had to move in with his grandfather.  This means that he no longer lives next door to one best friend and across the street from the other.  In fact, he now lives next door to Viola, the peskiest most know-it-all girl ever to pester a boy.  The good news is that there is a barn full of old stuff begging to be gone through, train tracks, a big ol’ pond with a dock and lots and lots of woods to explore which Owen does, tracking a good bit of it all across the kitchen floor.

He’s managed to catch the biggest bullfrog ever but Viola insists the frog is sad and should be set free.  Owen is certain that Tooley, what else would you name a frog, is perfectly fine but as the frog jumps less and refuses to croak or eat, he begins to wonder.  Can a frog be sad?  Should he be let go?

One night Owen is lying in bed listening to the train clatter down the tracks when he hears a wooden crash.  Something has fallen off the train and Owen is determined to find out what.  Now he just has to figure out how to include his best friends, leave out Viola and stay, more or less, out of trouble.

Owen is, as I am learning, every boy.  He has his own agenda, which only on rare occasion overlaps with that of one or more adults.  He hates it when someone knows more than he does, will make things up just to have something to say, but is also in awe of someone who can get things done, even if that someone happens to be a know-it-all allergy- ridden girl.

The one thing that truly bothered me about this book was that the know-it-all be-spectacled pest is a girl.  It seemed 2-dimensional and a wee bit stereotypic mostly because it hit a little too close to home.  Yes, in an earlier time I could have easily been mistaken for Viola.  Very easily.  But then I live with Owen the Shorter and Owen the Taller.  So maybe the characters aren’t stereotypic as much as they are uncomfortably realistic.  Ahem.

I don’t remember ever seeing how old Owen is but he strikes me as pretty much your typical 5th grader.  Busy.  Messy.  Determined.   At only 168 pages, this book wouldn’t overwhelm a less-confident reader.

A girl would enjoy the fact that the one who figures out practically everything is a girl.

The book also had a bit of an old time feel.  These kids are outside, building and doing.  They aren’t texting or e-mailing and I remember next to nothing about the phone.

My son came in and wanted to know what I was doing.  After I read him the review and we chatted about the book, he took it with him for his next read.


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