Friday, March 25, 2016

My Reading Life: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (Schmidt)

Because I'm a Gary Schmidt fan, I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, another of his juvenile fictions. Each of my previous Schmidt books -- The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, Trouble, and Orbiting Jupiter -- have hooked me up for the next one.

Schmidt is a wordsmith for young people. His sentence-crafting is much like the thought train of kids -- and maybe of many of us -- how your mind constructs a multitude of thoughts in silence at the snap of your fingers. To appreciate these thought-trains requires a bit closer reading; in other words, scanning often misses those jewels in which thinking is lightning fast but reading is combing slow. Many of them are laugh-out-loud funny simply because of the nature of children. And ourselves.

Schimidt's simple but visual descriptions have always fascinated me with appreciation for his craft. 
"In late September,
the sea breeze stole the gold from the maples,
the silver from the aspens.
The oaks browned; the beeches paled.
And in a general disheartening,
the leaves let go,
twirled and somersaulted,
and finally settled down to sleep."
Books can ignite fires in your mind,
because they carry ideas for kindling,
and art for matches."
I love that quote. In the story, it refers to a statement by the protagonist's father regarding his impression of The Origin of Species by Darwin. The protagonist Turner is schooled at home by his father who introduces him to Darwin's writings. Origin was written about half century prior to the setting of Lizzie Bright, and I haven't quite figured out Schmidt's positive positioning of Darwin's book in this story for young people. Schmidt has been on the faculty of Calvin College, a Christian liberal arts college in Grand Rapids (MI), for twenty-five years which adds another little element of confusion to the mix.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, a historical fiction first published in 2004, is one of Schmidt's earlier books. Schmidt, who has an academic interest in New England cultural history, brings together historical fact, youthful innocence, and human sinfulness to create powerful human emotions in both his characters and his readers. This story would be a good tool to begin a conversation with juvenile readers about human worth.

When I decided to sandwich Lizzie Bright as a quick little jaunt between two heavy tomes, I never expected to become so emotional because of it. I can tolerate (but not condone) a lot of injustice, but the injustice in this book plain infuriates me. I was angry, and still am when I allow myself to go there. I wanted to hit and harm the mean, hateful, and haughty people in this story and at the same time hug and protect those to whom the hate was directed.

I never expected it to haunt me like it has. And this haunting has derailed much of several days for me as I did my typical follow-up. As usual when I get interested in the subject, I pursue an aggressive online search for more information, historical documentation, and pictures, particularly if it is based on some fact. Rather than divulge any possible spoilers, I will only list these links (which are in no particular order) that you may pursue, but be warned that some will reveal certain aspects of the story.


Carol in Oregon said...

You have my attention? I've never read any Gary Schmidt. Should I read titles in the order they were published? Any thoughts?

Carol in Oregon said...


Janie said...

Not necessarily. I started with those which I could lay my hands on first: The Wednesday Wars, Okay for Now, Trouble, Orbiting Jupiter, and Lizzie Bright. The first two listed should be read in that order (Wed. first, then Okay) because some characters in Wed. follow in Okay.

I was not affected / bothered by any of the first three. Jupiter (which I still have not finished a post about) really got to me. It was just sad. Schmidt doesn't write feel-good books that are so typical; he writes about real things that happen, whether historically real or reactional-real, and those things can't always be feel-good. I really thought Lizzie was going to be light and fun because of the cover on my edition. That was before I read any blurbs on / in the book. This one on the heels of The Father's Tale has about drained me emotionally. :)

Anyway, back to the books, I have yet to read Anson's Way and The Sin Eater. He has a few picture books in the 30-40 page range that I'm skipping. Just reading the juvie / young adult ones.

Looking forward to your take on his writing. :)