19 June 2009

Review: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

What would Boston-born Turner Buckminster find in the small coastal town of Phippsburg, Maine? Being the minister's son is never easy, but Turner isn't even given a chance. Called out on the carpet by old Mrs. Cobb for touching her picket fence, the boy is forced to spend his first Maine summer playing hymns in her stuffy parlor.

Lucky for Turner, the sea breeze speaks to him, and when he listens, he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin digging for clams along the shore. Latin-reading, city-boy Turner had never seen the likes of Lizzie's home on Malaga Island. There the girl lives with her grandfather in a settlement established by ex-slaves.

Meanwhile, Phippsburg is facing an economic downturn and is finding it difficult to settle into the twentieth century. The town leaders believe the answer to their troubles is tourism, but before they can start to build inns, they need to rid the town of undesirables: nonconformists and poor blacks alike.

What can a thirteen-year-old boy do to open the eyes of the community when even his own father seems to be against him?

From the title, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, you'd think there were two principal characters. But Schmidt introduces us to another of Turner's best friends—the wind:

"The only thing that saved him from absolute suffocation was the sea breeze somersaulting and fooling, first ahead, then behind, running and panting like a dog ready to play." (p. 21)

"That night, after a quiet and still supper, Turner sat by his window watching the late dusk turn purple, and suddenly there was the sea breeze again, chuckling and rolling down Parker Head, whipping three times around First Congregational and then rollicking across the street, up the clapboards of the parsonage and to him, rustling his hair and scooting down the back of his shirt so that he shivered and laughed." (p. 101)
It's not surprising that Schmidt's tale, based on a historic event, is the winner of a both a Newbery Honor and a Printz Honor. The prose is poetically beautiful and begs for a second or third reading. But this middle reader novel doesn't flinch from difficult topics: aging and the elderly, municipal greed, racial prejudice, small town conformity, and the price of standing up for what you believe.

The book is emotionally complex and is an excellent choice to read with your children because it opens the door to important conversation. The lessons to be learned from the story of Phippsburg touch all generations and give adults an opportunity for self-reassessment as they discuss tough issues with the kids in their lives.

The audiobook was read by Sam Freed. The hurt and wonder, joys and frustrations of Turner Buckminster's life were skillfully conveyed through Freed's narration.

I could not find a website or blog for Gary D. Schmidt, but I encourage to you read the review at Bermudaonion's Weblog, which includes a video about Malaga Island.

Published by Random House Childrens Books, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780553494952
Challenges: New Author, Support Your Library, Young Adult, 999, 100+
YTD: 46
Rating: A


bermudaonion 6/19/09, 7:14 AM  

I'm so glad you loved this book as much as I did. I think more people need to read it because it tells such an important story. I still think about it. Your review is excellent.

Julie P. 6/19/09, 7:32 AM  

I think this is definitely a book that I need to read. It sounds like Booking Daughter might enjoy it too!

Liz B 6/19/09, 8:34 AM  

I like other books by Schmidt, but I didn't like this one. It pushed one of my major pet peeve buttons in books: the African American character who exists solely to teach the white character lessons about life and make that white character a better person.

I found the history fascinating; but I enjoyed Wednesday Wars by him much more.

Beth F 6/19/09, 8:37 AM  

Liz B: valid point. I guess I just let the story and the writing carry me away. I really want to read Wednesday Wars and anything else Schmidt wrote. I love his writing style.

Ana S. 6/19/09, 8:58 AM  

I really like the sound of this. Judging by the passages you shared, I'll love the writing. And plus, I'm doing the complete Printz project, so I plan to slowly but surely read all winners and honour books anyway.

Margot 6/19/09, 10:07 AM  

I like good children's books that allow for open dialogue about some of the problems in history that carry over to modern day. This one sounds good.

Nise' 6/19/09, 10:09 AM  

The cover looks familiar, either I've read it or its sitting on my TBR stack! Great review.

Jenners 6/19/09, 10:17 AM  

This just sounds like a book that would spark all kinds of good conversatons. I'll have to write it down for when my son is older and can read books like these. I can't wait to read with him and talk about important books like this one! Fantastic review.

Shelley 6/19/09, 11:40 AM  

This is one is on my Bloggiesta to do list, so I just skimmed for now, I'll come back later and read it fully. I loved Wednesday Wars by Schmidt. It was one of my favorites of last year.

Debbie's World of Books 6/21/09, 12:55 AM  

I set up a book challenges summary challenge post for next month. One less thing to worry about :)

Gerbera Daisy Diaries 6/10/10, 11:28 AM  

I read this in one sitting -- stayed up until midnight to finish. I didn't think anything could top The Wednesday Wars -- this came close. I've added Gary Schmidt to my favorite authors list!! Brilliant.

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