Almost Home
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 19, 2013
I like this author's books very much, so I was happy to read her latest. Sugar Mae Cole is trying to keep it together, but life is falling apart for her and her mother--with no help from Sugar's unreliable, mostly-absent father, who has a gambling addiction. Sugar's mother is sweet, but starts to lose it when she and Sugar are evicted. Pretty soon the two of them are in Chicago, homeless.

Sugar has a lovely if slightly unusual support system. Even after she leaves town, her English teacher Mr. Bennett is there for her. "E-mail me," he says, and eventually she does. Then Sugar finds a frightened puppy and manages to keep it even when she gets dropped into the foster care system. A group home is rough, but she ends up with a couple who are kind to her. This doesn't go over well with her mother, who is still in a shelter, still struggling. Sugar handles her divided loyalties as best she can. She also helps her fearful puppy, too, reassuring herself at the same time. Slowly, Sugar's life takes on a new shape.

Bauer may be prone to overly tidy endings, but I'm good with that. I believe a children's book should end on a note of hope--as long as it's not sicky-sweet. Sugar's life has improved by the last page, but it's still not going to be an easy road. Sugar is a thoroughly likable character, and I'm rooting for her all the way into that fictional future of hers. Bauer's portrait of homelessness may end more happily than most such scenarios in the lives of actual children, but it will certainly clue young readers in to how hard it is to be poor and adrift. That kind of empathy will serve them well in this life where so many people are in difficult situations.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2013
Possibly the cutest book cover ever.

Sugar and her puppy Shush are trying to hold the family together as Sugar's mom Reba falls apart. Dad's not in the picture, and Reba has always lived in a bit of dreamland. Sugar's been the one to face facts, using poetry and creative thank you notes to express herself. When they lose their house, Sugar changes schools and loses her connection to a supportive teacher (although they can still email). Luckily she finds other adults who can help her. I found Sugar a little pushy and demanding, but she's got a lot going on in her life for someone in 6th grade, so I cut her some slack. The ending, as Sugar starts 7th grade in a new school is hopeful without being overly sweet. Lots of humor in this book, though sometimes it struck me as odd, like when an old dog passes away, or when her no-good father tries to get back with mother. I think BEST FOOT FORWARD and RULES OF THE ROAD (both also by Bauer, and easy to suggest to 7th graders) are better books. This one hits a slightly younger audience (5th graders) and the puppy on the cover says "Pick Me Up" to every reader who walks by. MIddle school readers wanting more books on children parenting their parents might try WAITING FOR NORMAL by Lesli Connor(5th/6th grade) and DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS by C.J. Omololu (7th/8th grade)

About me: I'm a middle school/high school librarian
How I got this book: purchased for the library
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 2013
As a church librarian, I'm always looking for quality books for children - whether deeply religious or just about true life lessons. Character, Sugar has a lot on her shoulders with the loss of her grandfather, a deadbeat father and a mother with mental and esteem issues. She sticks with her mom no matter what her circumstances. It would be easy to take on the life of a foster child and turn away from her mother. But the story captures Sugar doing the best she can no matter her environment. I truly read every poem because there were deep feelings in the poems and that was a huge part of the story. I too lived in a situation that was not ideal as a child, but with God's love, I went on to be a successful woman, wife and mother. As I read the book, I thought of all the children living in a car or in a shelter. As Coordinator of our Quilt Ministry, I thought of all of the baby blankets our group make to help offer comfort and hope to children. This book truly shows the strength of Sugar and her endurance to be successful in life. Thanks to teacher, Mr. B, Sugar has an adult as a positive roll model and offers her encouragement and to pursue her talents. HIGHLY recommended for all church libraries.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2013
Oh my gosh, this book is AMAZING! Sugar Mae Cole has just become homeless, and is sent to a foster care while her mother is in a mental hospital. Her father gambles and she it is hard to help her mother get better. But she makes friends, learns lessons and writes out her feelings in
poems. I would reccomend it to anyone, when they are 10 and up though, because it contains some things like death that is in daily life. This book is really great. It makes you appreciate what you have, and I love the ending!
Peace Out!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon June 12, 2015
It's very interesting to me that all of the reviews are positive for this book. And there are a lot of positives about it. Joan Bauer is a good writer and it's a well written book. The plot moves along, the characters are interesting, and it would resonate with a lot of kids.

When I was teaching middle school English, I would have assigned this book to my class. I know I would have. There is very little character description, so readers will make their own minds up about what the characters look like. I had many students who lived through situations similar to what the girl in this story, Sugar, walks through.

But, as a homeschooling mom, I'm not going to assign this book to my children. There are a couple of reasons. Because I homeschool, I can shelter my kids and let them be kids. I know they have to tackle and understand the hard stuff of the world, but the big question I face is when and how. Books tackle difficult subjects differently. Some address the tough stuff of life. Some can plant ideas in kids heads (depending on who the kids is). Some are persuasive about life issues. Some are objective and simply tell a story--leaving the moral evaluation up to the reader. I did read this entire book. After the first half, I was willing to let my daughter read it. I knew I would need to process through it because there is a slew of difficult emotional issues in it--abandonment by a parent, neglect, poverty, homelessness, peer pressure, teasing, and death of a loved one. But, then I read two pages that it took it off the reading list for my kids. It was the discussion of depression and her mom's time in the hospital after she breaks down. She asks the question to herself of whether it could happen to her. IFor some kids, I think this could provoke discussion and help them identify with the character. For others who read this alone without anyone to talk to about it, it could plant some dangerous and fearful ideas. This book is recommended for grades 5 and up. I know it would devastate and weigh down my fifth grade daughter to read these pages. I don't even think she could get through them. (To help my children understand homelessness, I'm going to assign Paper Things by Jennifer Jacobson)

This book is particularly weighty to me though and there are some other things that bother me. I grew up in LA, where there is a large homeless population. (I looked up Chicago and its homeless population rivals LA and NYC) A year ago, I heard a twentysomething girl glamorize homelessness and I was floored. It's not ideal. I do understand why teens need to understand the truth about the difficulties of life. But, the way this author portrays homelessness and shelters was frustrating to me. Because Sugar is raising herself essentially and has to act like an adult, her perspective isn't always right. She sees her mom and others breaking the rules about alcohol in the shelter and thinks it's okay. It's not... When she talks about the other homeless people she knows, she talks as if they aren't responsible for the situations they're in. ... There was a homeless man in a dinner group I coordinated a few years ago. One day he came to the group and said he'd been fired because he didn't call for 3 days and didn't go to work because--he didn't want to. Many homeless people won't stay in shelters because they don't want to follow anyone's rules. Except, rules are a part life--wherever you go. Schools, workplaces, homes, and even public places all have their own rules. We live in a world where people don't want to take responsibility for their choices (and subsequent consequences). Paper Things addresses this in a way where both the children and adults come to understand their responsibilities and what they did right/wrong. But in this book, the only people who are ever really wrong are Sugar's deadbeat dad and her friend's dad who abandoned his family. Sugar's mom does grow, but Sugar still thinks at the end of the book that she has to act like an adult. If your child reads this book without being able to process it with you, they are going to come up with their own way of understanding how the world works—for better or for worse. There's just so much in this book that needs to be processed.

Another very subtle part of the story is that Sugar lies and is manipulative to get what she wants. But, she justifies it when it's for a good cause—like getting food for her puppy. She is nice to people on the outside—not understanding that as people, our hearts are just as important as our actions. She's nice to people to get what she wants many times. One could say, though, aren't we all? Well, that's not what I'm teaching my kids. We love others because God loves us.

So why would teachers have kids read this book? I've been asking myself this question because it is such a heavy book. As a former public school teacher, I know that the philosophy is that as long as kids are reading, it doesn't matter what they're reading. Teachers look for books that kids want to read. The priority is not on the question of whether or not a book is good for a student to read--whether or not it would be helpful? For kids who live in situations like Sugar's, I think it can help them make sense of their lives and not feel alone in what they're going through. It could give them hope that things will get better. But, the school in my county that I know read this is an upper middle class school with kids that are not in the situation Sugar is in. I tried to do some reading why kids would be drawn to this book and it sounded from a Time article like it's because they want emotionally provocative books--that will draw them in. They want to read about teens overcoming. Sugar does that. She has to be the adult in the book and she is. Do you want your teen to think they have to act like an adult (and essentially be one) or that they know more than you do as the parent?

Before you let your child read this book, I'd encourage you to read it yourself. Your child may be able to handle the emotional weight of this book. You may feel it is appropriate for him/her to read. Many people tell me all the time that a lot of what's in books goes over kids heads. I don't believe that. They take in a lot—and if they can't process it, there's a good chance they may end up misunderstanding a lot of what they read or coming to conclusions that you wish they wouldn't. This is a thought provoking book—but one that shouldn't be read by a student alone. And I definitely wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than 7th grade.
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on August 29, 2014
This review is by Naomi, age 13. Sugar Mae Cole and her mom Reba are living a normal life. Just when Sugar and her mom hit rock bottom and are about to lose their house. A girl named Jenny gives Sugar a shy, scared, and quiet puppy named Shush. Mr. LeeLand Sugar's father has a gambling addiction so he takes a loan out against the house to pay off his gambling debts which puts Sugar and her mom deeper in the mess they are in. Sugar knows that her and Reba can't afford to keep the puppy. Reba says Shush can stay the night .The next day the sheriff comes knocking at the door to kick them out. They go stay with Reba's cousins until they are kicked out of there. They go stay at a shelter called Grace's place. Since the shelter is to far from school Sugar has to leave her best friends and her favorite teacher Mr. Bennett to go to a new school that is closer to the shelter. Reba befriends a lady named Evie then she leaves the shelter. One night Reba says there is a new cleaning place in Chicago and they would stay with Evie.
When they got to Chicago things did not go as they had planed. Reba goes to get the job and there was no job. And when she gets back to the park where Sugar is waiting for her, Reba has an emotional breakdown. Reba is put in the hospital and Sugar in a foster home. there she meets Lexie and Mac. Reba must learn to let go of her husband Mr. LeeLand so that he can get the help he needs with his gambling addiction and when he goes down not to take her and Sugar with him.

In the end Sugar realizes that home is not always a physical place; it's also a place you carry in your heart .When I read this book I was so touched because Sugar gave me a little bit of sweetness. I laughed and I cried with Sugar.She thought me to value the life i had more. I don't think I could have had the courage to face the world head on as Sugar did
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on November 6, 2013
Being a kid is tough. There's no need to add parent/child role reversals to adolescence. Sometimes, however, it is inevitable. No one knows this more than Sugar Mae Cole.

Sugar lives with her flighty mother, Reba, who aspires to be a grand Southern Belle. Her father, Mr. Leeland, as Sugar refers to him, is an absent parental figure constantly scouring the country seeking his next big win. In her father's stead, grandfather King Cole, showers Sugar with love, support, and lots of sage advice chocked full of life lessons.

Life is color. Sugar Mae Cole, greeting card writer extraordinaire, artfully illustrates that it's whatever color you choose to paint it. Early on the reader becomes quickly aware of Sugar's quick wit, enterprising nature, and persuasiveness; which, serves her well during her harrying months of homelessness. Mrs. Pittman's statement, "Sugar Mae Cole, I give you the ability to see monsters in the deep and to not be afraid when they surface" (32), foreshadows the hardships Sugar soon faces.

Almost Home is a salute to writing and healing, children and parents, perseverance and support, as well as, strength and sweetness. It's also a celebration of gifted students. I loved the fluidness of Bauer's writing. The plot could not have been more realistic. Applying King Cole's advice, Sugar aptly assumes a maturity beyond her years, as she secures temporary shelter, navigates a new city, and maintains a positive disposition. Although Sugar saves Shush from the animal shelter, he actually rescues her. Shush represents safety, hope, and new beginnings. In Shush, Sugar sees herself--frightened, but fighting to live. My only issue with the novel, which isn't much of an issue as it is a pet peeve, concerns Sugar and Joonie addressing their parents by their first names.

I highly recommend for any middle grade classroom and school library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2014
Excellent read. My 12 year old daughter and I both enjoyed it. We adopted our daughter through the foster care system. She and I both could relate to Sugar Mae Cole.
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on October 28, 2012
I loved this book, Bauer's gift of believing in yourself despite the challenges life may bring. Every other page I laughed or cried out loud for all the tender, tragic and comical scenarios that happened to Sugar, the 12 year old protagonist, all so true to the human experience. I felt a real connection to the characters in this story for they speak to the strengths and weaknesses we all have.

It does take a "village" to raise a child and every chance we get can impact a young person forever, for good or bad. So I wonder about all the real life Sugars out there who don't have the good fortune of an inspiring teacher, loving foster parent, and a mother who makes it back from the depths of despair and am inspired to put this book in the hands of every teacher, social worker and parent I meet.

I want to be bold and brave like Sugar, painting my kitchen Periwinkle Blue and hoping there's more Sugar and Shush inspiration to come!
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on December 24, 2012
Almost Home by Joan Bauer is an inspirational story about how Sugar, her dog Shush and her mother, Reba lose their home and persevere to get their lives back to "normal." Both are sweet people that are likeable characters. Sugar expresses her feelings in poetry and thanks to some nice people who come into her life, finds herself in a good home. I liked how the dog sort of parallels Sugar's growth as it gets braver throughout the book after having had a bad start. The issue of trust is also addressed, especially trusting the right people.

I enjoyed this book because it shows people can rise above bad circumstances and gives hope to kids who may be going through hard times. I really liked how the mother instilled an attitude of gratitude in her daughter through a silly thank you card game and the challenge to "live bold."
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