I can still hear a bunch of my students outside my room packing up to go home, debating and mulling over just what is happening in this remarkable book. I thought I’d be able to finish reading it to them today, but ran out of time. Had to stop at page 170 with 26 pages left. But they are wildly curious, many stayed in the room with me for a while after school, to speculate, to surmise, to guess. One figured it out, but doesn’t know it yet. Others think they know, but don’t.
I read this aloud last year for the first time and timed it so that I was able to read from the Very Important Scene straight through to the end. This year I had planned to do so as well, but ran out of time. But I think it might be even better this way — they are now obsessed and I bet they may well go home and talk to their parents about it too. And what more could you want for an amazing read aloud?
Just as Wheelie offers this jaw-breaking confection in Rebecca Stead’s Newbery winner When You Reach Me, so I’m offering a few bits too. (Mine are far less cavity-inducing though.)
“For me, as a kid, a book was a very private world,” she said. “I didn’t like talking about books with other people very much because it almost felt like I didn’t want other people to be in that world with me.”
From The Book Club With Just One Member
I believe–and this is not an original idea from me–that really strong writing yields more every time you read it.
From Rebecca Stead Asks the Big Questions
Optimism doesn’t come easily to me, but it’s a quality I strive for.
From Meet Rebecca Stead
I like the here and now. Imperfect as the world is, I do think we’re at least kind of groping in the right direction.
From Five Questions for Rebecca Stead
“Kids are not quite as independent at that age anymore,” she says. “From age nine, my friends and I were on the streets, walking home, going to each other’s houses, going to the store. I really wanted to write about that: the independence that’s a little bit scary but also a really positive thing in a lot of ways. And I’m not sure that most kids have that today.”
From Time Out for Kids New York
Filed under awards, Newbery
For kids who are ahead of the game and have finished their Harry Potters, Hobbits and other classics of summer reading lists, here are three recent novels they could polish off for fun before school begins: suspense with a bit of the supernatural; a friendship story set during the Great Depression; and a historical novel involving mistaken identity and swordplay. Call it the pleasure reading list.
Check out these reviews of Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (by yours truly), Mary Ann Hoberman’s Strawberry Hill and Joanne Dahme’s The Plague in this Sunday’s New York Times and then head on over to their Paper Cuts blog for more on summer reading and comments responding to their questions: “What are you (or your kids) reading this summer? Do you love it or hate it?”
As I read I sneak occasional peeks to see my students’ faces. They are sitting up, tense and alert, wide eyed with open mouths. Once in a while, without taking his or her eyes off of me, one will whisper a shocked comment to a neighbor. As more information is revealed some can’t help but blurt out guesses. Marcus! The Laughing Man! Sal?
It is clear that I must finish the book today.
Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me isn’t out until July, but I feel I must write about it now while my experience with it and my fourth grade class is still fresh. I picked up the ARC at ALA, read and enjoyed it, but it was reading it aloud to the kids that caused me to appreciate what a marvelous book it is. During this second reading it was a delight to see how slyly and elegantly Stead wove her strands of plot, developed character, and steadily built her world into a remarkable finale. The chapters are very short with enigmatic final paragraphs that absolutely demand you keep going. What is this all about? my students wondered. Urgently they begged me to read more. And more. And more.
Twelve-year old Miranda is telling her story to someone; we know that from the start. And so it is clearly a mystery, a very complex one. It is also the story of friendship — how new ones develop for Miranda and old ones change. It is about a time and a place — Miranda’s 1979 Upper West Side New York City neighborhood. And it is something else too — something that turns it into something other than a realistic novel, a period piece, a conventional mystery or relationship story. Betsy Bird calls it the LOST book and, having read it twice, I know why. But rest assured that it is totally different in feeling and sensibility — a clean and lovely book that many a young reader is going to adore. I hope some of them adore it as much as Miranda does a book I too loved at her age, A Wrinkle in Time.
Do be aware that this is not a simple read. Young readers need to just go with it — and be patient as eventually most questions (but not all) are answered. I can imagine that some may find the complicated knots and threads of the story confusing, especially those used to having their plots delivered more systematically. I wondered about this myself which is one reason I read the book aloud to my students — I will be interested to hear about other children who read it on their own.
I finished reading to my class on Wednesday and yesterday, after a wonderful discussion about it, they wrote blog posts for you, dear blog readers, so you could know how one group of young readers responded to the book. Please go read them and, even better, comment as they are eager for these. (Oh, one more thing — the $20,000 Pyramid game show is an important element in the story and chapter titles thus the titles my students chose to give to their posts.)