A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Patricia Reilly Giff (Pictures of Hollis Woods, Lillyâ€™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.
- Itâ€™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 fatherâ€™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 Audubonâ€™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 Audubonâ€™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 Schmidtâ€™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 townâ€”including himselfâ€”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 Dougâ€™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 Audubonâ€™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 Audubonâ€™s masterpiecesâ€”along with Dougâ€™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 Dougâ€™s life. Gary deftly works in the historical issues of the eraâ€”the Vietnam War andÂ the Apollo 11 moon shotâ€”in a way that makes them understandable for young readers.
If you love baseball, youâ€™ll learn a lot about the Yankees in the 1960s. If you are interested in art, youâ€™ll find some brilliant composition analysis. If you are a literature nut, you will be able to see Jane Eyre through Dougâ€™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 craftâ€”one of the finest pieces of writingÂ forÂ young readersÂ of the last decade.Â 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.
Hereâ€™s a passage from Okay For Now:
Joe Pepitone once gave me his New York Yankees baseball cap.
Iâ€™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: â€śHeâ€™s a batta heâ€™s a batta batta batta heâ€™s a battaâ€¦â€ť That was their song.
Originally posted April 26, 2011. Updated for .