Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wish, by Barbara O'Connor -- keeping hope alive in difficult times (ages 9-12)

Children face difficult times throughout their lives -- fighting with good friends, losing an animal you love, conflict at home, struggles with schoolwork. Figuring out how to keep hope alive in the face of these difficulties is a crucial part of growing up.

Charlie faces a heap of trouble in Barbara O'Connor's book Wish, but each and every day she makes a wish. Through her stubborn, fiery personality (or maybe despite it?), she keeps hope that her life will get better. This was a perfect book to read at the end of this turbulent year -- I hope you find hope in its pages.
by Barbara O'Connor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Macmillan, 2016
*read an excerpt*
Your local library
ages 9-12
Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese is sent to live with an aunt and uncle she's never met before when her family falls apart. Her father is in jail, and her mother won't get out of bed, so Charlie must stay with Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus until her mother can get her "feet on the ground" again. Charlie feels forgotten, dumped in a small town far away from everything that she knows, while her sister gets to live with her best friend.

Charlie struggles with her "fiery red temper," with her anger, with her worries. Young readers will relate to these feelings--worrying that her mama won't get better, or feeling angry that everyone is ignoring her.
"What was I doing there on that porch with these people I didn't even know? I felt like I'd been tossed out on the side of the road like a sack of unwanted kittens."
Every day, Charlie makes a wish--she has a whole list of all the different ways to make a wish, "like seeing a white horse or blowing a dandelion." She never tells anyone what her wish is, but readers quickly realize it's to live with her family, to go home. But what do you do when your wish doesn't come true?

Things start to turn around when Charlie befriends a stray dog she names Wishbone.
"I knew what it felt like to be a stray, not having a home where somebody wanted you. And he was a fighter. Like me. That dog and I had a lot in common. I was suddenly overwhelmed with love for that skinny dog."
O'Connor skillfully develops this story, showing Charlie's struggle in her new home, the way she's so stubbornly focusing on what she doesn't have that she doesn't see the goodness of her new home. Instead of becoming sappy, this story resonates with poignant vulnerability and the power of friendship.

I especially love the way that Aunt Bertha focuses on Charlie's positive side, instead of quickly criticizing her. Her childhood stories give Charlie a sense of history and a sense that things will be okay, even if they're difficult now. Aunt Bertha reminds me of some of these lessons about helping students develop hope from the Greater Good Science Center -- especially telling stories of success, and keeping things light and positive:
"Helping our students cultivate hope might be one of the most important things we do for them. Not only will it help them get more A’s in the short-run; it’ll give them the confidence and creativity to reach their long-term goals in school and in life."
I want to send special thanks to Kirby Larson for recommending this book to me--she's so right that it quickly became one of my favorites this year. Share this with children who have loved reading realistic stories like RJ Palacio's Wonder or Lynda Mullaly Hunt's Fish in a Tree. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this lovely review! (And thanks to my pal, Kirby Larson)