Gram and Gramps take Sal on a road trip from Kentucky to Idaho, Sal passes the time by telling them how she and Phoebe attempt to identify a lunatic and a murderer, and behind both tales is the third layer, Sal’s facing and accepting her own loss.
Sal’s other grandparents appear only in one description:
Once I asked my mother why Grandmother and Grandfather Pickford never laughed. My mother said, “They’re just so busy being respectable. It takes a lot of concentration to be that respectable.”
No wonder Gram and Gramps,–unconventional, impulsively responsive, and in love for a lifetime–so effectively bind the layers of the book. The “respectable” characters are important only in their unimportance.
Sharon Creech mixes tears and laughter in a road trip through sadness, guilt, acceptance, and caring. I’ll get this book of hers back to the library and check out another.
“The best way of travel…, if you aren’t going in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you want to see everything quite clearly, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon…you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop. The rest is left entirely to nature. How fast you will go and where is left to the winds.”
“A balloon is a wonderful way to travel, particularly if you want to travel from home to school. On your way, many delightful things can happen, such as:
the wind will be calm and you’ll never get to school.
The wind will blow you in the wrong direction and take you fifty miles out into the country away from school, and
You might decide to play hookey, just once, and nobody can bother you in a balloon.
So Professor William Waterman Sherman constructs a balloon, suspends a basket cabin from it, and takes off—
Part of the fun of this book is solving the riddle of what’s true, what’s fiction. The happy colonists using diamonds as foundations for their homes and children racing around the living room on electrified chairs are, as you would guess, fiction. The French balloonist Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as “Nadar,” was a real person. In 1858 he took the first aerial photograph. He did fly an enormous balloon named Le Géant.
With history (and added fantasy), the plot of The Twenty-One Balloons blows up on an island named Krakatoa. Google that!
“Our neighbors once witnessed me take a metal mixing bowl and some household chemicals into the garage. After hearing a loud bang, they called the police, assuming I was attempting to manufacture drugs…What the neighbors didn’t know and my father eventually confirmed for the police was the truth: I was trying to work out the principles of explosive pulse propulsion in spacecraft for a science project. The police laughed, although my father made me spend a month’s allowance to replace the bowl.”
Remember Encyclopedia Brown? The ten-year-old boy detective? I didn’t discover him until our grandson showed me one of the 28 Encyclopedia Brown books, and then Grandpa and I shared those stories.
Colin Fischer is 14 and a high school freshman. Most of his classmates think he’s weird because he doesn’t think or react the way most kids do. Colin can’t “read” facial expressions the way most of us do, so he keeps index cards with smiley and other faces to help him figure out whether someone is joking, or scared, or angry, or what. Because he collects facts the way you might collect stamps or baseball cards, and because he’s curious about the ways other people behave, he finds out who shot off the gun at a birthday party.
This book is a window into the mind of a “different” kid. There’s a bully, there are friends, and there are kids who become better friends. The book ends with hints of trouble yet to come from the perpetrator of the crime, and I’d like to see how Colin’s conflict with his little brother turns out, but there isn’t a sequel–not yet…
Colin Fischer isn’t a quick read like the Encyclopedia Brown books. There’s one mystery (but several problems) solved in a full-length book for teen readers. The book is a bonus if you like odd facts, like the swimming patterns of hammerhead sharks or what is the Kuleshov effect.