A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
APRIL 26:

  • Happy birthday Patricia Reilly Giff (Pictures of Hollis Woods, Lilly’s Crossing), and Marilyn Nelson (A Wreath for Emmett Till, Sweethearts of Rythm).
  • In 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine sent radioactive fallout over a wide geographic area, including Europe. Read The Chernobyl Disaster: Legacy and Impact on the Future of Nuclear Energy by Wil Mara and Meltdown: A Race Against Nuclear Disaster at Three Mile Island by Wilborn Hampton.
  • It’s National Pretzel Day. Read Pretzel by Margret Rey, illustrated by H.A. Rey, and My Daddy is a Pretzel: Yoga for Parents and Kids by Baron Baptiste, illustrations by Sophie Fatus. And today is Poem in Your Pocket Day.

On April 26, 1795, John James Audubon, naturalist and painter, was born on his father’s sugar plantation in Haiti. He would become famous in his adopted country, the newly formed United States, for setting out to paint, catalogue, and gain an encyclopedic understanding of its winged creatures. A copy of Audubon’s Birds of America recently made auction history, selling for more than 11.5 million dollars to become the most expensive book in the world.

Many books for children have featured Audubon. But I think a book published in 2011 by Gary D. Schmidt, Okay For Now, may do more to explain the enduring appeal of Audubon’s work to fifth through eighth graders than anything else ever written about him. In this historical novel set in 1968, Doug Swieteck (who made an appearance in Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars) leaves for a new home, a small town in upstate New York. With a brother in Vietnam, an incredibly abusive father, and an older brother who torments him and seems intent on a life of crime, Doug faces more problems than your average child.

But he also possesses an incredible spirit. He is basically a good kid caught in a very bad situation. In the course of the novel he convinces everyone in the town—including himself—that he, not his father or brothers, will determine his own fate. Schmidt is a master at describing absolutely believable young boys who readers grow to care for and to cheer on. For my money, Doug is his greatest creation to date. As the novel evolves, readers slowly understand some of the demons in Doug’s life and why he acts the way he does. Even more important, they watch him change and become stronger, more true to himself.

Right after Doug arrives in town, he discovers a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America in the library. With the help of a staff member he starts to copy the illustrations in the book. Doug becomes obsessed with these birds. Each chapter presents a black-and-white reproduction of one of Audubon’s masterpieces—along with Doug’s understanding of it. Because Schmidt is a master craftsman, weaving plot threads together with consummate grace, the bird in each chapter also signifies some of the events in Doug’s life. Gary deftly works in the historical issues of the era—the Vietnam War and the Apollo 11 moon shot—in a way that makes them understandable for young readers.

If you love baseball, you’ll learn a lot about the Yankees in the 1960s. If you are interested in art, you’ll find some brilliant composition analysis. If you are a literature nut, you will be able to see Jane Eyre through Doug’s eyes. If you enjoy watching a writer weave story, plot, and language together, you can savor this brilliant book by a master at the top of his craft—one of the finest pieces of writing for young readers of the last decade. And if you simply enjoy a heartwarming, compelling story, you will have a fabulous time reading Okay for Now. Wise and witty and savvy about life, the book has a lot to teach all its readers. And best of all, we get to hang out with Doug Swieteck for a couple of hundred pages.

Here’s a passage from Okay For Now:

Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap.

I’m not lying.

He gave it to me. To me, Doug Swieteck. To me.

Joe Pepitone and Horace Clark came all the way out on the Island to Camillo Junior High and I threw with them. Me and Danny Hupfer and Holling Hoodhood, who were good guys. We all threw with Joe Pepitone and Horace Clark, and we batted, too. They sang to us while we swung away: “He’s a batta he’s a batta batta batta he’s a batta…” That was their song.

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Originally posted April 26, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Art, History, Nature
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Okay For Now
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COMMENTS

  1. Jen says:

    I’m reading Okay for Now thanks to John! (He sent me the ARC!) I love it. Wednesday Wars was great, I loved the insight into life here for kids during the Vietnam War. This book is brilliant so far. I agree, Doug is just a nice kid in a really tough situation. I had just read about the Audubon Society in Kathryn Lansky’s She’s Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head but I really didn’t know much about it. I had no idea whatsoever that he was an artist who drew birds, I just knew he had something to do with birds. Great book to be highlighted by the Almanac!

  2. My class will finish Wednesday Wars this Friday. I told them I bought a copy of this book, and I have a HUGE waiting list to read it! Wish I could afford to buy a class set!

  3. Anita says:

    Kim: I wish someone would donate a class set to you too! But at least you are sharing fine new books with your students. That is such a great thing to do for them.

  4. Joyce Sidman says:

    I love the way Audubon is at the center of this book, with his birds expressing all the pain and exhilaration of the story that wheels around them. Brilliant! I also read this in ARC form–and it’s one I’m going to hang on to.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I read this book over my spring break (along with many others) and cannot wait to get it in my library. The Wednesday Wars was a VA Reader’s Choice book and therefore many of my kids have read it and will be excited for a sequel of sorts. Doug is such a likeable kid.

  6. I am almost finished with WEDNESDAY WARS and stayed up too, too late last night reading it…and OKAY FOR NOW is by the bed waiting on me. It is one of the very seldom times I have selfishly stashed a RIF book at my house knowing I want it in a day or two…and you have just strengthened my resolve to keep it at the house until I read it which I won’t tary in doing!

  7. Anita says:

    Carol: My only warning comes from experience — don’t start this in the evening, unless you can miss a night’s sleep. Happy reading.

  8. Erica S. says:

    I’ve been hearing so much about this book lately – I can’t wait to read it!

  9. Vicki Palmquist says:

    Even my abominable habit of reading the end of the book after Chapter 2 couldn’t ruin the majestic writing in this book. In fact, I was absorbed in reading AND watching how the astonishingly good Gary D. Schmidt pulled me into the fabric of this time, this town, this family, and this boy. Outstanding.

  10. Anita says:

    Vicki: I always say there is no “wrong” way to read a book — whatever works! On dog books, I always read the last chapter;if the dog dies, I stop there.

  11. Debbie St. Thomas says:

    Anita,
    I love Gary D. Schmidt’s work. This book sound like a must-read, too. I will check it out today! Thanks~

  12. Kristi Hazelrigg says:

    This is really a fantastic little book. The more I read Gary Schmidt, the more I admire his talent. Schmidt has created an unforgettable character in Doug Swieteck. Bold, unsure, angry, loving, cocky, and humble, this young man is as dynamic as they come. As the book’s narrator, his voice is absolutely perfect. He is one of my favorite characters I’ve read in a long, long time. Even when he was snarky, I loved this kid. I found myself wondering what he grew up to do with his life. That doesn’t happen too often, so this boy really stayed with me. Great voice, and I’m not lyin’.

    I also admire the way characters changed as Doug grew. Or was it Doug who was changing and viewing them differently? There is not a flat character in the book (save one, but we never really meet him, just hear about him). Each member of Doug’s family has a surprise or two up his or her sleeve, as does Doug’s father’s boss, “Mr. Big-Bucks-Ballard”, who emerges as an admirable and noble character.

    Okay for Now is moving, funny, infuriating, and completely wonderful.

  13. Rebecca says:

    This book was fantastic – nice to see Doug get his own story – and it’s a good one. I love his voice and the way the Audubon prints enable him to develop on so many levels. Original and powerful – a real winner. Thanks for including it!

  14. Colleen says:

    I was very moved by this story. This is definitely a book that will stay with me! I love how Doug was able to overcome small town opinion and deal with the dysfunction in his family though hard work and a dedication to art (and a little bit of love).

  15. Alyson says:

    The best book Ive read this year! What a great post! Love this web site.

  16. Nita says:

    Egads! A book set in 1968 is now considered a “historical” novel. It wasn’t that long ago. I must be getting old!!!!

  17. Anita says:

    If you accept the definition of an historical novel for children as occuring one generation ago — rather than two — the 1980s would be considered historical. That is a tougher one to swallow.
    Been around the block a few times myself! Anita

  18. G. Perry says:

    I’m just posting about this book because I had some thinking to do after reading it.

    As an adult, I had a significant problem with one important part of the book which I won’t discuss here. However, there is so much beautiful, terrible and glorious parts of the work here, that it stands alone in my mind as a possible looming classic. (Trust me. I have considerable experience and knowledge about the early days of a boy like Doug Swieteck.)

    Having said the above and exempting the one part that troubled me, (and I hope that part doesn’t turn out to hurt the book) this is the best book I’ve read since Harry Potter. In fact, I’ll go so far as to give it an equal, in story telling and skill, with Rowling.

    You’re a truly great writer Mr. Schmidt.

  19. Dan says:

    Like G. Perry, I am posting this later than most. I think I have a new favorite book!!! I first listened to the audio version, and it was wonderful. A while later I read the book, and the second time through was even better than the first. Now I am leading a small group of 5th and 6th graders as they read it. Several think it is the best book they’ve ever read. What fun! I’m even thinking about writing a grant totally based on this book. Just think what we could do with $3,000! We could purchase plenty of books for parent-child book clubs and classroom reads, buy several quality Audubon prints, and maybe even have Gary Schmidt visit for our Young Authors Day! (If anyone has any other ideas about this grant, I would love to hear them.) My only disappointment with Okay for Now is that it didn’t win the Newbery Medal!!!

    I thought about posting as “Principal Dan,” but it just doesn’t have the same ring as “Principal Peattie!”

  20. Anita says:

    Dan: Thanks for this post. I am so glad to hear your report of the response of 5th and 6th graders. I agree with their assessment. Gary is not that far from you geographically — I hope your plan works.

  21. Erin says:

    i read this book last year for Betty Carter’s Reviewing class. I read it voraciously, and the image of the Audubon book with pages torn out still stays in my mind. The unedited proof version that i read had simply a white cover, so i was a little surprised when I saw what the cover looks like. It’s not at all what I pictured, but the style is consistent with The Wednesday Wars cover.

  22. Barb says:

    Okay for Now won the SLJ’s Battle of the Books in a most exciting way. http://battleofthebooks.slj.com/2012/04/02/the-big-kahuna-match-between-shades-of-gray-vs-life-an-exploded-diagram-vs-okay-for-now/
    I would suggest everyone read Jonathan Stroud’s beautifully written decision.

  23. Linda Elsner says:

    I was lucky enough to read the galley last year. It was the first book I ever hugged when I finished reading. Not many books get that kind of response from me!

  24. Nancy says:

    I read Trouble a couple of years ago, and bought OKay for now for our library. After I’d read it, I just HAD to read Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Gary Schmidt is my all time favorite YA author and I’ve been recommending him to both teens and adults. I was lucky enough to get to hear Gary at a recent conference, and especially enjoyed the “back story” from Wednesday Wars. I can’t wait for his next book!

  25. McCourt says:

    I read this book on your recommendation from last year and am so glad I did! It quickly became a favorite – in fact, on our Christmas card this year I had everyone in our family list their favorite book – and this was my pick. I am so in love with the language and how Mr. Schmidt reveals things without having to spell them out. Such a master of words and storytelling.

  26. Eliza says:

    I enjoyed this book so much and just wanted to adopt Doug and give him a safe place. He has a wonderful dry humor. One of my all time favorite quotes from this book is: “Mrs. Daugherty was keeping my bowl of cream of wheat hot, and she had a special treat with it, she said. It was bananas. In the whole story of the world, bananas have never once been a special treat.” I love bananas but I have to agree with Doug on this one.

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