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!
In 1940 my father was a diplomat, representing the country of Japan. Our family lived in a small town in the small country called Lithuania…one early morning in late July, my life changed forever…
“There are a lot of people outside,” my mother said. ‘We don’t know what is going to happen…They have come to ask for your father’s help…Unless we help, they may be killed or taken away by some bad men.”
My father said to my mother, “I have to do something. I may have to disobey my government, but if I don’t, I will be disobeying God.”
Back then, I did not fully understand what [my father] had done, or why it was so important.
I do now.
Hiroki Sugihara tells about the weeks when his father wrote permits for several thousand Jews to travel across Russia to Japan. That was the only direction these people could go to escape from the Nazis who wanted to kill them. If they could take a train all the way across Russia, and a ship to Japan, they could go on to other countries and live safely.
The Japanese government ordered Mr. Sugihara not to write the travel permits. Mr. Sugihara knew he could be punished, but he wrote permit after permit, day after day, until he was sent away from Lithuania.
Henry wants a bicycle. I have heard the answer from Henry’s parents myself, and as a parent I’ve had to tell our children the same: “I wish you [had one] too…but with prices and taxes going up all the time, I’m afraid we can’t give you one this year.”
So Henry, with help from his friend Beezus and interference from her little sister Ramona, tries to earn his bike. Along the way, teachers have a huge problem with bubble gum, Henry finds out how dog food tastes, and his school mates won’t let him forget about his coupon for free false eyelashes.