Review: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

When Joseph joins Jack’s family as a foster child, Jack’s life definitely changes. Joseph is 14 and Jack is 12, both of them end up not going on the school bus the first day that Joseph goes to school, since the bus driver made a comment about Joseph before he even got aboard. So the two boys walk together to school, two miles in the winter weather. As they journey together, they get to know one another better. The dairy farm that Jack’s family owns is also another place where Jack can learn about Joseph. Joseph is immediately accepted by the cows, a good sign in Jack’s opinion. Joseph is desperate to find the daughter he has never met. But it is not simple to do that, even though his life is changing for the better.

Schmidt writes a spare and fierce novel here, one where the biting wind of the winter is tempered only by the warmth of a caring foster family and the love of a dairy cow. The sharpness of the cold is also cleansing, clearing the way for Joseph to tell the truth to Jack and his family. The relationships here are built in a natural and understandable way. It all feels real especially as the story veers into tragedy.

The two main characters are different yet brotherhood grows between the two of them quickly. It happens in leaps and bounds as they both discover that the other will be there for him. Yet that is how brotherhood and friendship works, it is slow until it is fast. This book captures that wonderfully. Jack’s parents are also well rendered, full characters who wrestle with the problems Joseph brings to the family and yet are available and open to see him as he is.

This is a book that speaks to the tragedy of some young people’s lives, the power of love to transform, and the impossible choices that life creates. It is powerful, beautiful and wrenching. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead

Lenny and Lucy and Philip Stead

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (InfoSoup)

This award-winning husband and wife team return with another winner of a picture book. Peter knows that moving to a new house is a bad idea, especially when he sees the dark woods. Their new house is on the other side of a bridge from the woods. Peter and his dog Harold spend a sleepless night watch the bridge to make sure nothing crosses it from the woods. Then they head out and use pillows and blankets to create Lenny, a guardian. Unfortunately, they worried that Lenny might be lonely out there at night all alone, so again they did not sleep. The next day, they took blankets and leaves and created a second guardian, Lucy. That night, everyone slept. And the next day, a visitor arrived, one who shows that despite the scary woods this might be a good place to live after all.

Stead has the beautiful ability to create a story out of leaves, pillows and blankets. This book speaks to all children who have moved and those who have been afraid of other things too. There is a menacing sense from the woods, and Stead combats that with a concrete feel of normalcy but also a strong creativity. This all feels like childhood to me, capturing that wonder mixed with fear that turns into something else all the more powerful.

Erin Stead’s art has a delicacy about it that matches Philip’s tone in his prose. She creates a linear forest, uncluttered and somehow all the more strange and alien because of that. The hulking bodies of Lenny and Lucy are so solid on the page that they combat that feeling just by being there. Readers will immediately see the safety in these creatures.

This is a story of moving but also about wonder and fear. It’s a brilliant picture book, one to finish with a contented smile. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.