“Surviving the Applewhites” by Stephanie Tolan

The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less:  Jake Semple is a problem child who has been kicked out of more public schools than he can count.  In desperation, his grandfather enrolls him in the Creative Academy run by the Applewhite family, a group of artistic eccentrics that run a school unlike any other.  In the beginning, Jake finds much to dislike about the place, especially E. D. Applewhite, a girl about his age who, unlike her family, enjoys order and structure.  When Randolph, the father of the clan, casts Jake in a role in a local version of “The Sound of Music, the young misfit finds that he takes quite well to acting and singing.  While Jake blossoms, E.D. finds herself increasingly unappreciated by her own family.

My Take: I appreciated this book because it turned out much differently than I had imagined.  Of course, I knew that Jake would eventually settle in with the Applewhite family, but I imagined that the plot would contain a great deal of bad, perhaps borderline violent, behavior on Jake’s part that would induce a crisis in the family.  I was expecting something closer to the Great Gilly Hopkins.  I much enjoyed that, as the novel progressed, Tolan subtly shifted the focus from Jake to other characters.  This made for a much more enjoyable read about the role and power of artistic ventures to bring people together.

One Interesting Note About the Author:  According to her website, Stephanie Tolan is “also well known as an advocate for extremely bright children.  She co-authored the award-winning nonfiction book, Guiding the Gifted Child, and has written many articles about the challenges gifted ‘asynchronous’ children and adults face as they find a way to fit into their world.”

“Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave” by Hill and Collier

I finally got around to taking a look at some of the Caldecott finalists for this year.  I truly enjoyed the lively Interrupting Chicken, but Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave has really captured me. Laban Carrick Hill’s spare prose captures the mysterious character of Dave, his art, and his circumstances.  A slave in South Carolina in the 19th century, Dave spends his time making clay containers and inscribing small poems on the side of some of them.  Bryan Collier’s award winning art combines painting and collage to give life to Dave’s world.  As we read along, we discover that pottery is his balm and escape from his cruel circumstances.  Perhaps Dave best expresses his pain and hope in this simple poem he etches into the side of a jar in 1857: “I wonder where is all  my relation/  friendship to all—and, every nation.”  This book gave me goosebumps.