“Never be without a good book” is a motto revealed to me, one I adopted many years ago. Today, I plan to surprise you with book characters, originally written for children, but these are titles I love because the characters create empathy in us.
To put my suggestions in a framework, I will go back to CAMEL. We want to read books with complex characters, don’t we? Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper stars Melody, an eleven year old girl with a photographic memory. Choosing Melody to narrate this book takes you into her mind for she cannot talk, walk, or write. Wait a minute, you ask, how can she have a photographic memory when she is as described on the first page? How can she communicate with us, the readers, and with her family and friends? She has cerebral palsy, is placed in special needs class, forever in her wheelchair. Melody is a complex “Character You Want to Know!” I will not tell you the plot of this human story, because you will want to see how it unfolds.
Although we sometimes read predictable novels while at the beach, still, for lasting impact, I think we want ambiguity in our reading choices. Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a book I will re-read many times. The books I have chosen for today’s post will help us to understand children who are different from the norm. Willow Chance, the character I want you to know, is a twelve year old genius who reveres the number 7. She has many unusual quirks and interests so she is not a “popular” child in school. Her life takes a tragic turn and other adults reach out to care for her and try to understand this beautiful child. I hope you will take Willow into your heart as I have. Hear about Willow from a young reader who posted a review on Amazon:
“I guess I really enjoyed this book because I am a gifted child myself. I am 9 years old and have recently skipped 2 years of primary school. I loved this book; it really made me cry…. I agree with Willow that sometimes in school it is hard to fit in….’”
One Meaty character you will want to know is Auggie Pullman. Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which stars this main character you will want to know, has appeared on many “Best Of” lists in the past few years. I picked it up and recommended this realistic story to many teachers and parents. Auggie’s face is never described because, as the narrator Auggie tells us, it is indescribable. I cannot imagine his life in middle school as others taunt and react to a new boy who has his cranial-facial differences. Auggie Pullman will surprise you with his resilience to the bullies and those who try to ignore him.
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, has an Exceptional Setting and it is about a boy who does not speak. Jacob is discovered by a childless couple on their porch one day. This setting will remind you of Anne of Green Gables; it is a small farm near a simple village. Jacob communicates best with a cow and the dog in this quiet setting, but the couple learn much from him daily. On her blog Sharon Creech says, “It was a challenge to write about a boy who does not speak, but I hope the reader learns as much about the boy through what he does and how he affects others as we might learn if he could use words.”
Language and Literary Devices wrap up my choices for you of Characters You Want to Know: Part 1. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written entirely in free verse and won the Newbery Award in 1998. It is a difficult novel for children, so I recommend that adults read this historical fiction gem first before giving it to a child. Billie Joe is a fifteen year old who lives in the dust bowl of Oklahoma and yearns to play piano. How can a poor farmer’s family during the Depression keep a large musical instrument such as a piano. Hesse is remarkable when she describes the music in Billie Joe’s heart. The lines are spare just as the land provided little, but you will love the language.
On the Road with Arley”
Here’s the way I figure it.
My place in the world is at the piano.”
Please read Out of the Dust yourself to get to know Billie Joe. I hope you enjoy meeting these characters who all exhibit gifts to share with readers who strive to understand human nature through empathetic literature.