Two Coming-of-Age Stories That Rock!

Here’s a bit I like:

“Mrs. Hurd sighed a mighty sigh. ‘Don’t be such a Christian.  You got whipped because you got only the first part right–when you’re fighting someone bigger than you are, you’ve got to break his nose first, and you did that just fine.  But then there’s the second part.  You have to figure he’s going to be mad, and so you have to hit him in the right eye to shut it.  After that you’re even.'”  (p. 55)

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Author:  Gary D. Schmidt

Minister’s son Turner Buckminster moves to town and doesn’t seem to fit in with the other kids, until he meets Lizzie.  The catch is that she’s black and he’s white and the whites of his town are trying to run off the black community to turn their land into a resort.  Turner and Lizzie find unusual allies and try to maintain a friendship against the odds.  Wow, can Gary Schmidt write or what???  This story lifted me up, it broke my heart, it made me want to run around my neighborhood handing out copies to children!  Schmidt manages to evoke so much emotion without actually writing in a sentimental way.  The dialogue and interaction between characters gives just enough, then leaves the reader to connect and infer richly.

This book is so well written, but I worry about getting my fifth grade readers to dig in.  Fifth grade readers workshop is a year of helping young readers learn to enjoy the longer pay-off over the instant gratification of the action-action-action novels that tend to be popular.  I’m not knocking those books, because I enjoy them myself, but part of reading development is learning to appreciate and then enjoy the slower build-up, because it often has a richer pay-off.  That’s why Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is a title that I think will be successful in a book club format, and is probably a great read aloud story, but would tend to collect dust if I just make it generally available in my classroom library.  Coming in at 5.9-ish for reading level, I’d recommend this to any middle school reading teacher in a heartbeat.

And another bit I like:

“At the sound of his cry, something stirred.  He froze.  ‘Torak?’  Renn’s voice sounded far away.  He didn’t dare call out.  Whatever had moved had gone still again:  but it was a horrible, waiting stillness.  It knew he was there.  The Watchers everywhere.  They see you, but you don’t see them.  Not till it’s too late.”  (p. 176)

Wolf Brother

Author:  Michelle Paver

The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series had a devoted following of five or six readers last year in my classroom, and I was embarrassed that I hadn’t read any of the titles.  It starts out with a bang as Torak’s father dies from a strange bear attack, which sets Torak out on a quest to save his people.  Set in the Stone Age, Paver does a good job of making the details of the characters and setting feel authentic.  Lots of action, good versus evil, rite-of-passagey business–what’s not to like?  And with a reading level of 4.5-ish, this story is accessible to a lot of my readers.  Torak is supported in his quest by a young wolf and a girl named Renn, characters that serve to further broaden the appeal of this story for my students.  This is a book that really blends genres, with adventure, historical fiction, and fantasy combining smoothly.  I’m going to advocate more for this series with future classes for sure.

For Writers Workshop:  I didn’t have a specific idea until I looked at the excerpt I quoted.  Holy cow–colon usage!  I don’t see much of that in fifth grade reading material.  I also noticed Paver uses ellipses several times in the story.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cammie
    Sep 02, 2011 @ 14:08:37

    I loved Lizzie Bright, too. I also wrote almost the exact same concern in my summaries for myself; there’s no immediate hook. You have to actually read and fall into the setting and the hearts of the characters.


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