Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Paper things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson

What do girls do who haven't any mothers to help them through their troubles? Louisa May Alcott

I have mentioned  this in the past.  People often ask me why I only read 'kids' books.  I reply with two answers - I don't have time with all the books on my reading pile and yes they are 'kids books' and when I do finally pick up an adult book that someone has told me is fabulous I am usually so disappointed.

Here is a book I need to give to every adult who has ever thought 'kids books' are a lesser species. Paper Things is a breathtaking book.  It is emotional, raw and utterly honest.  Start by listening to this audio sample which takes up the story from about page 4.

Ari and Gage have lost both their mum and dad.  Janna, a family friend, has become their guardian but she and Gage, now aged nineteen keep clashing and so Gage has decided to leave.  He takes eleven year old Ari with him and promises he has already set up an apartment where they will live. But "we didn't have an apartment. Not yet. We didn't have a home of any kind.  That was the beginning of February This is almost the end of March. We still don't."

Gage organises a different place to sleep each night and Ari learns to keep her most important possessions in her back pack. Some places where they stay offer a shower and laundry and food, others do not but through it all Ari stays so optimistic.  There are some truly heart breaking moments when you just wonder how she can keep going and some incredibly kind people who offer help, sometimes without knowing the real situation.  One of my favourites  relates to Ari's shoes :

"I was running as fast as I could, but my shoes has started to flap where the stitching is coming out, and it falls of easily."

"We head over to the door to get my shoes. ... and my finger pokes through the hole in the stitching. Gage ... doesn't want Janna to notice what sorry shape they're in."

"Ms Finch was giving me a free pair of shoes - of really cute shoes.  Why me? .... And suddenly I'm crying."

The quote above from Louisa May Alcott comes from an assignment Ari is working on.  She discovers she has some things in common with the famous author and so does Janna who introduced her to the book Little Women.

There is also so much that resonates in the title of this book.  Ari cuts paper people and furniture from junk mail catalogs.  She uses them in a comforting game of make-believe.  These paper things are so precious to Ari.  To get in to assisted housing Ari and Gage need to complete official paperwork - more paper things.  Ari wants to fulfill her mother's dying wish and attend Carter Middle School but she needs to fill in an application form and for that she needs an address - more paper things that all seem too hard.

If you have questions after reading this book Jennifer Jacobson has recorded a long and informative video where she talks to students.  Here is a review with more plot details.  Kirkus also have a good review but oddly did not give this book a star. I would give it FIVE stars!

Here is a brief set of teaching ideas.

Following this book I would recommend How to Steal a dog, Crenshaw, and Hold fast.  I also found a book list with a range of titles from Picture books through to YA on the themes of empathy and homelessness.

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