JULY 22:

  • Happy birthday S. E. Hinton (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish), and Carole Byard (Working Cotton).
  • It’s the birth date of Margery Williams (1881-1944), The Velveteen Rabbit.
  • Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), the American poet whose words are on the Statue of Liberty, was born on this day. Read Liberty’s Voice: The Emma Lazarus Story by Erica Silverman, illustrated by Stacy Shuett.
  • Also born on this day was artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Read Edward Hopper: Painter of Light and Shadow by Susan Goldman Rubin.
  • In 1620, a group English religious dissenters now known as the Pilgrims boarded a ship named the Mayflower and set sail for what they consider to be the New World. Read …If you Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620 by Ann McGovern and Anna DiVito.
  • Happy birthday to the city of Albany, New York, chartered in 1686. Read River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River by Hudson Talbott and Hudson River An Adventure from the Mountains to the Sea by Peter Lourie.

The first entry of our book of the day, Wendy Mass’s Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life occurs on July 22, and so today seemed an appropriate time to look at this beloved book by one of today’s most popular writers for children. Our hero Jeremy beings his saga with words that grab readers’ attention: “My sweat smells like peanut butter.” In the middle of a long hot summer, he is sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake, cradling a box that says, “The Meaning of Life—for Jeremy Fink to open on his 13th birthday.”

This chapter masterfully sets the parameters of the book to follow. A month earlier this box had been delivered to Jeremy’s apartment. But it takes four different keys to open it and all appear to be missing. Jeremy has always been the kind of kid who plays things safe but the delivery of this mysterious box changes everything for him. Jeremy sets out with his best friend Lizzy to find these keys and unravel the mystery of the box.

In the process of this quest, Jeremy comes to terms with his father’s death and whether or not a fortune-teller predicted that death. He also meets the strange and eccentric Oswald Oswald, for whom Jeremy delivers strange packages in a black limo. A lot of mystery and intrigue get revealed in each chapter, but all get wrapped up in a three-handkerchief ending. Jeremy learns a lot about his father’s life and his thirteenth birthday turns out to be a turning point in his own journey.

Wendy Mass always has a sure sense of her audience; she stays true to childhood emotions and knows how to tell a great story. As in 11 Birthdays, Mass re-creates an innocent boy/girl friendship brilliantly. And Mass knows how to construct a page-turner for the nine- through thirteen-year-old set, something quite difficult for any writer.

So happy thirteenth birthday, Jeremy Fink. If you are hunting for a delightful summer book to read, pick up his saga. And thank you, Wendy Mass, for staying so true to your readers and their needs. That is something I celebrate every day of the year.

Here’s a passage from Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life:

Our journey to this rock started a long time ago—before I was even born. If my father had been allowed to spend his thirteenth birthday playing Little League with his friends instead of being dragged by his parents to Atlantic City, I wouldn’t be sitting here, and the box wouldn’t exist. Who ever would have imagined those two events would be linked?

All those years ago, while my grandmother was in a shop buying saltwater taffy, my father wandered down the boardwalk and would up in front of an old palm reader. She picked up his clammy hand and held it up to her face. Then she let his arm fall onto the velvet-covered table and said, “You vil die ven you are forty years old.” My grandmother arrived in time to hear the fortune-teller’s declaration, and she yanked my dad away, refusing to pay. Whenever my father told the story, he laughed, so we laughed, too.


Originally posted July 22, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Family, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life


  1. I love this book so much, one year we gave it to all the 6th graders at our school! Just saw movie and enjoyed that too!

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