For the upcoming September, October, and November discussion books, visit the CLN website.
This month’s Chapter & Verse Book Club selections were Pink by Nan Gregory and Luc Melanson (Groundwood Books), Almost Zero: a Dyamonde Daniel Story by Nikki Grimes and R. Gregory Christie (Putnam) and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion). This month’s theme was “socioeconomically disadvantaged children” and books that might help them find their place in the world.
We began our evening by asking how each book handled our theme for this month. With everything that’s going on in the world, an increasing number of children and teens are facing reduced circumstances … and some of them weren’t good before.
It disturbed a number of our members that the little girl in Pink didn’t get what she wants at the end of the book. The doll stays in the store and (some thought) her parents were cavalier about it. They were also disturbed that the storekeeper was so mean. This gave us an opportunity to talk about another book representing another culture, this time Canadian. This is a highly acclaimed book in Canada. Does our reaction have anything to do with the American view that you can get what you want if you work hard enough? And the Canadian’s more stoic viewpoint? One member was glad because the little girl didn’t get her wish … it seemed more realistic that way. What she did have was a lot of love. We were mixed on our willingness to recommend this book.
Almost Zero, a Dyamonde Daniel story was approved by everyone. We all thought it was well-written, a good balance of humor and challenges, and a fairly complex story for an early chapter book. Donna noted that each of Ms. Grimes’ Dyamonde Daniel books has been getting more complex, growing along with her readers’ capabilities. Our teacher librarian said this would make a good service learning book and she appreciated that it was factual—schools themselves can’t take up a collection, but students and families can organize an effort like this. Some wondered if Dyamonde’s lesson wasn’t a bit drastic on her mother’s part but those of us who’d read the other Dyamonde Daniel books felt this was in keeping with mother and daughter personalities.
When we got to Okay for Now, there was a collective sigh. Several people said this is a shoe-in for a Newbery something. Our high school librarian said, “I want to hug this book. It’s very literary. I loved it because I loved it.” Many people found the Audubon art storyline to be breathtaking: the language, the metaphor, the way it’s fully integrated into the story.
We had a number of people say how much they enjoyed that there were many adults present in the book.The boss, the librarian, the grocery store owner, the collector; they’re a varied cast who have an impact on Doug’s life. He wouldn’t have changed the way he did without them.
The librarians discussed how difficult it is to get their readers interested in The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. We talked about what might have been done differently to make these books more intriguing for kids. Ultimately, we had a talk about Schmidt’s recent books being appropriate for all ages to read and we’ hope they’re promoted that way.
We concluded our evening by talking about who had the power in each of the books. Whether we put it in those terms or not, a book is often about who holds the power at the beginning of the book and who holds the power by the book’s conclusion. In Okay for Now, Doug held the power at the end of the book. He’d outwitted his father and he’d changed … so did his brothers and his entire family. Dyamonde Daniel had her own power because she’d helped Isabel of her own volition and earned back her closet of clothes. In Pink, it could be said that the family has the power at the end of the book: they share love and they have that no matter their socioeconomic condition.
—reported by Vicki Palmquist, facilitator
We had a lively discussion tonight. We had a nice-sized group of 9—large for us.
Not everyone had read Pink. Of those who did, most of us appreciated that the girl didn’t get what she wanted which is often true to life. We thought that the larger message was a good one.
Most thought Almost Zero was well done and that the generosity of the children was real and authentic—that when given the chance, children are very caring. Most thought the message was a very good one—the difference between need and want and, also, helping others who are less fortunate. Some of us questioned if the illustrations would appeal to children.
Okay for Now sparked a great deal of lively discussion. We all shared our favorite parts. We talked about Doug’s growth, the use of metaphor with the bird drawings, and all the challenging elements that were woven in—domestic violence, war, cancer, poverty, disability, literacy. We felt that the voice of the main character was authentic, likable and very engaging. The one thing that people questioned quite a bit was if the father would have truly changed as he did at the end. Most people thought that was too much of a stretch and not true to life in domestic violence situations. That aside, we all came away feeling that the book tackled many complex issues really well.
—reported by Linda Glaser, facilitator
It was an exciting gathering for us this month as we had three new people join us. We were ten in all! Natasha very kindly stopped by with pink frosted cookies and pink lemonade, but was unable to stay due to a family obligation.
We began by sharing what some of us are currently reading: Numbers (Ward), The Amulet series (Kibuishi), Sparrow Road (O’Connor), and Flipped (Van Draanen).
We discussed Okay for Now first. Perhaps we got a little hung up by wondering how Doug ended up getting the baseball hat in The Wednesday Wars in the first place. It’s losing that hat that starts off the story Okay for Now. We knew why Holling Hoodhood and his friend Danny were included for the visit with the baseball players and the gifts they were given. We weren’t quite sure why Doug was. Did Gary Schmidt know he was going to write a book about Doug after The Wednesday Wars? We’d like to ask him.
Though we didn’t think kids would be interested in books that included Shakespeare (The Wednesday Wars) or Audubon in the books’ descriptions, we think they would like Okay for Now. It’s got the “bad kid” who is able to survive and thrive. Doug has an accurate young male voice. Lots and lots of things happen in the book, but Schmidt makes the implausible seem believable. All the plot threads are easy to follow, and all’s well that ends well. As Schmidt said in an interview on YouTube, this is a novel about wholeness. Doug gathers the missing Audubon plates so he can make one thing whole in his life. In the process, a lot of people become whole, too.
It may seem improbable that everything would fit together so neatly. Christopher and Doug’s father redeem themselves, Lucas finds a job, and the gym teacher and Doug start to get along. But, we thought kids would like to think the world could work that way, even if adults might think, “Yeah, right.” We felt it was a wonderfully positive book, even though there were difficult situations: abusive father, Lil getting seriously sick. We discussed how authentic it was that Doug’s mother didn’t leave his dad because women in the 1960s just didn’t consider that an option.
One of the most poignant moments in the book for us, as adults, was when the family picked up Lucas. They didn’t know he lost both his legs in Vietnam. And then, on the way home, they had to deal with war protesters. That might not have as much impact on middle school students, and they may note how the current Middle East veterans are treated so differently than the Vietnam War veterans were.
We’d like to think this book is on a fast track for the Newbery Medal.
Not everyone was able to find a copy of Almost Zero. We did think Diamonde Daniel’s mother was very clever, removing all the things she didn’t need to a neighbor’s home. We did wonder if the family that was victim of the fire might have had insurance, but decided they probably didn’t. This was considered a good addition to the early reader books.
We liked that Pink was a book with feeling. We liked the use of colors: green on the page where the little girl is green with envy, blues when they are singing the blues. But, mostly, it’s pink.
We were glad that this was a book that had both parents present. Though the dad was often gone and always busy when he was home, we thought that rang true, at least from our childhoods. And, this book was a little retro, so maybe it was supposed to take place in the past. Little girls now don’t yearn for bride dolls; they all want princess dolls.
The book didn’t include much, if any humor, and the shopkeeper was a bit harsh, ushering the little girl out of the store, assuming she was not a potential buyer. There will always be the haves and the have-nots. But, wishing for things, even things that are out of our reach, is sometimes fun. We likened it to looking at the Sears, Montgomery Wards, and J.C. Penney Christmas catalogs when we were children. We knew we couldn’t have everything we saw in those catalogs that we wanted, but it was fun to look.
Though boys might not select this book, we thought they would enjoy it. We did.
—reported by Heidi Hammond, co-facilitator