Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

What to say about a book that a reader should know nothing about before opening
the cover? One’s tongue must tread very carefully, while exuberantly bandying about ones utter enchantment with the work, least it slip and let out one of the book’s many, many delightful secrets. With a great deal of care and some trepidation, here are a few things that I would like to say:

  • Some books have clever tight plots and leave the reader guessing its mysteries right up to the end, and some books have great characters that are a joy to hang out with, rarely are both fused together in such a way as to leave no fissure to disparage. When You Reach Me is just such a rarity. It is perfection from opening quote (Albert Einstein), to closing four-word statement.
  • This book is accessible to its target age group, 9-12. This is a clever book. I know I just said that. But really it is very, very clever! Sadly cleverness puts many books outside the reach of many young readers. Not used to nuance and subtlety many books that I most enjoy, are just too clever for their own good, or at least the good of many of my students. I have not the slightest doubt that When You Reach Me will be completely assessable to my fourth-grade and up student body, heck we can even throw in most of the third-graders (we do have above average students). Do you understand what this means? This is a treasure that can be used to intrigue reluctant readers as well as challenge gifted readers. It will make an excellent classroom read-aloud or discussion group book. I dare any teacher to be bored by it!
  • I am not the first, and I will not be the last to bandy about the N word. Come January if this baby is not announced over the ALSC podium, I will run naked down Broadway (and believe me no one wants to see that, no one!).

  • Now comes the moment when I introduce a little device I am going to call the Kid Lit Social Club (KLSC). This is where I get to break down the barriers of time, location, publishers, genre, and book binding to throw characters from the currently discussed book into the path of other characters from children's literature.

    The Gang from When You Reach Me at the KLSC

    Miranda will naturally be BFFs with Meg Murry, after all they will always be the same age.

    Miranda can also form a support group with Lynne Rae Perkins' Debbie for the recovery of those who have been dumped by long-time best friends.

    Miranda can also join a enigmatic code cracking club with the duo from Wendy Mass's Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

    Miranda and Richard can both join Lucky's friend Lincoln, as members of The International Guild of Knot Tyers.

    Marcus should enroll in a social skill awareness class with Emma Jean Lazarus.

    Marcus and Julia will most likely get a scholarship to attend Connie Willis' Oxford.

    Colin can hang out with Sammy Keyes' pal Casey Acosta at the skate park, where they can discuss the allure of capable, witty females.

    Annemarie's father can trade recipes with DJ Swank's Dad.

    Sal and Alvin Ho can hold a discussion group on lesson's learned when one tries to shun female friendship.

    The Laughing Man can trade tactical strategies with Miles Vorkosigan.

    Now can you think of any other characters that would strike up an acquaintance with the gang from WYRM?

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