Author: Vince Vawter
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
GoodReads Summary: An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend's paper route for the month of July, he knows he'll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything.
The paper route poses challenges, but it's a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble--and puts the boy's life, as well as that of his family's devoted housekeeper, in danger.
What Jen Thinks: This year on American Idol, one of the top finalists was a guy named Lazaro Arbos, who has a stutter. He takes a long time to produce words when he is talking but when he is singing, the words come out beautifully. I loved watching him progress through the competition and to hear his story. At one point, Lazarro shared how difficult it can be for someone with a stutter to make and friendships. It really touched my heart and I found myself making connections between Lazaro and the main character in this book. I'm currently listening to the book Quiet by Susan Cain and that is giving me a totally different perspective on introverts and personalities in general. Throughout the book, I thought so much about how a stutter really impacts who you want to be and what you can do in life. I found myself thinking of Mattie from Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. Mattie is painfully shy and in a way she reminded me of the main character in Paperboy.
I really enjoyed Vince's descriptions in this book. As a mentor text, it would be great for kids to look at how he describes while not simply telling the reader about what is happening. He uses clues about what might be happening at a certain moment or place and describes what is going on in a scene to show more about what is happening. I especially love the snatch of text below where he describes dusk. I can exactly visualize that time of night when you really start to notice bugs hanging around. When you all of a sudden realize the sun has almost disappeared and you can't really see what's going on around you any more. I love how this simple snatch of text can be an example of how how kids can describe in their writing.
What Kellee Thinks: I found this book fascinating. It dealt with many different topics from stuttering to racism in the South and definitely shows the power of others in helping a young person find his/her voice (and in this book, that is a literal statement). I loved how it was written because although our narrator wasn't very vocal in his life, he loved writing and found his voice through his writing. It is through this art that he is able to tell his story. It is also quite interesting that though he is writing his story, he withholds his name until the very end because he has trouble saying it himself. He is referred to mostly as "Little Man" throughout the book.
But, by far, my favorite thing about this story is all of the characters our narrator gets involved with when he begins his paper route. First is Little Man's first crush, a pretty young wife who likes to drink and who Little Man cannot figure out. Second is a homeless man who bullies Little Man out of some of his possessions and is haunted by his past. Third, and most importantly, is a Merchant Marine who shows Little Man that there is more out there and that he can be whomever he wants to be. It is through these different adults that our narrator really starts to become his own.
In the classroom, this book would be a great discussion start about many different topics. Since it is historical, it gives a different perspective into many different topics including television and racism. Vawter also writes this novel with a great voice and makes interesting choices with punctuation that would be interesting to talk to students about.
Read Together: Grades 6 - 8
Read Alone: Grades 6 - 8
Read With: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Wonder by RJ Palacio, Okay For Now by Gary Schmidt, The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan, Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, Hound Dog True by Linda Urba
Snatch of Text:
"The streets are like friends I don't have to talk to." (p. 11)
"I didn't know what time it was but I knew I was going to have a tough time beating it home by seven o'clock. It wasn't pitch-dark yet but more flies were swarming around the porch light and a few lightning bugs were warming up out in the yard for a big Friday night in Memphis." (p. 33)
"I didn't have to think too long because I had wanted to see the inside of Mr. Spiro's house all along. I was nervous but not from knowing I might have to say something. The nervousness came from being excited just like before the first pitch of a ball game.
The house was not going to be like my house. I was sure of that. But I didn't know what to expect. Never in a gazillion years could I have guessed what I was going to see.
Books. Hundreds. Thousands. Wall to wall. Floor to ceiling." (p. 101-102)
"I wish I had a book
That did not have an end.
I go to pick it up
And it is new again.
The words feel real
And mine to share.
The have no sound.
They have no air.
My voice is clear
And lets me speak
My fear is gone
I'm never weak.
My words all come
And right on time.
The words are true
The words are mine."
(p. 108-109)Mentor Text For: Voice, First Person Point of View, Grammar, Simile, Making Predictions, Contractions (p. 30), Poetry (p. 108-109), Descriptive, Personal Narrative
Writing Prompts: There are some unexpected players in this young boy's life that he would have never thought would affect him the way they did. Think of someone in your life that you thank for helping, influencing, or changing you and write them a thank you letter.
Topics Covered: Candide, Voltaire, Speech Pathology, Baseball, Alcoholism, Anxiety, Infidelity, Genetics, Fathers, Heidegger, Existentialism, Segregation, Linguistics, Language, Race Relations, Faith, History of the Alphabet (p. 64-65), Myths (p. 66), Television (p. 44)
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May 7th: Teach Mentor Texts
May 8th: Random Acts of Reading
May 9th: Teach Mentor Texts
May 10th: Ms. Yingling Reads
May 13th: The Children’s Book Review
May 14th: Nerdy Book Club