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Reaching for Sun Hardcover – March 6, 2007
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From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up—Josie, a girl with cerebral palsy, lives on the shrinking farmland owned by her family for generations and now being sold to developers. Her mother works and attends college and her grandmother tends her diminished patch of land. The story is told in the seventh-grader's voice in a series of free-verse poems. She is a bright and wry narrator, acutely aware of her limitations and her strengths. When Jordan, wealthy but neglected by his widowed father, moves into a mansion behind her farmhouse, they discover a common love of nature and science, and Josie finally has a real friend. She and her grandmother are both passionate about plants and gardening, and Zimmer does a nice job integrating botanical images throughout the novel. Josie feels like a "dandelion in a purple petunia patch" and thinks, "I must be a real disappointment—/stunted foliage,/no yield." Through growing maturity and Granny's wisdom, she gains confidence in herself. Reaching for Sun will have wide appeal for readers of diverse ability. Reluctant readers will be attracted to the seeming simplicity of the text, with short chapters and lots of white space on the page. They may not even realize that they are reading poetry. More sophisticated readers will find added enjoyment as they begin to appreciate the poetic structure and imagery. Readers of all levels will enjoy spending time with Josie and may gain an increased awareness of what it's like to live with a disability.—Nancy Brown, Fox Lane High School, Bedford, NY
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About the Author
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's first teaching assignment was special education. She taught high school students with autism and middle school children with developmental and learning disabilities. She holds a master's degree in reading education and is the author of a book of poetry, Sketches from a Spy Tree (Clarion). She loves living in Waxhaw, North Carolina, with her family but will always consider Ohio her home.
Top customer reviews
Josie was born with cerebral palsy, a condition which has affected one side of her body more than the other. She is a little shy and a little embarrassed to be in the special education class. She is very close to her mother and her grandmother, but hasn't any close friends at school.
Reaching for Sun is a verse novel told from Josie's point of view. Though Josie sometimes has difficulties expressing herself and speaking her thoughts, her voice on the page is full of strength. The book is split into four portions, marking each season and accentuating it with a famous quote. The floral motif is punctuated with illustrations of a flower slowly sprouting, budding, and opening on the bottom of the right-hand pages, creating a sort of flipbook, akin to that in What My Mother Doesn't Know by Sonya Sones.
A beautiful book simply told, I recommend Reaching for Sun alongside Rules by Cynthia Lord, Hugging the Rock by Susan Taylor Brown, and So B. It by Sarah Weeks, all well-written stories in which young characters and/or their family members overcome physical limitations and discover their inner strengths.
Take note of this book. Reaching for Sun has already been placed on my Best Books of 2007 list. I highly recommend it.
Josie loves so much. The woods behind her home. Her Gran and her mother. Nature itself. What she doesn't love is having to attend special education classes for her cerebral palsy. She's also not too fond of the fact that she doesn't have a real friend to hang out with. That is, before she meets Jordan. The only son of a busy businessman, Jordan sees the extraordinary that resides within Josie. Yet before too long Josie's life gets extremely difficult. Her mother's making her attend classes at the clinic that she simply does not want to attend. She fights with Jordan and she starts skipping clinic only to have her Gran collapse ill at home. Life can be cruel and life can be beautiful and Josie sees equal parts of either side.
The verse novel still has to justify its own existence with every book that uses its style. When you pick up a work of fiction written in verse you have to ask yourself, "Would this title be stronger or weaker if it were just straight prose?" Zimmer's advantage is that Josie lives a life that's best suited for poetry. The very world around her sings. To hear her say, "I'm the wisteria vine growing up the arbor of this odd family, reaching for sun," would sound trite or forced if the book weren't verse. Instead, it's just lovely. This isn't a case where the author wrote some sentences and then randomly chopped them up into lines. It's a book that flows to its own internal rhythm.
This isn't Zimmer's first book either, you know. She wrote a poetry title called, Sketches From a Spy Tree so her poetry credentials are well and truly in order. As for those amongst you curious as to whether or not Josie's cerebral palsy is treated with the proper amount of attention, Ms. Zimmer also happened to teach high school students with autism and middle school children with developmental and learning disabilities (as this title's bookflap explains). I, personally, have never had any contact with anyone with cerebral palsy, so maybe I'm not the best person to judge. Still, if you wanted to find books on a disability that was treated with the utmost respect, I cannot see that Zimmer does anything but impress.
It doesn't hurt things any that the language in "Reaching for Sun" is distinctly pleasurable too. The "poem" called "holiday buffet", for example, shows off the author's low key style. "On Christmas Eve / we buy up the gala apples / with thumbprint bruises, / oranges, scaly and puckered, / even bananas spotted like / Granny's hands." And when Josie meets Jordan for the first time the books says that her voice is like "new chalk". Later, Gran defends the raucous brightly colored energy of her home and says that though she sold most of her land she didn't sell the family's imagination. Be that as it may, Josie wonders of that imagination, "if we could bleach it - just a bit." And when Jordan comes out wearing his swim trunks, "his shoulders look like the nub / of new growth on a tree. / In my swimsuit I feel exposed - / a seedling in a late frost." Good stuff.
It has a first book feel to it, of course. That's not necessarily a criticism. It's just that sometimes you read a book and it offers you hints of greater things to come. "Reaching for Sun" does that. It's not a flashy book. It won't parade itself about demanding attention and respect. But the emotions in this title are raw, the characters real, and the situations interesting. A fine example of the verse novel and bound to be a book report favorite.
Josie Wyatt is a 13 year old girl with cerebral palsy who has never had a close friend. She lives with her mother and her Gran, but has never known her father. Josie's mom is overly ambitious; her Gran is a little idealistic, but she is close to both. With all the exercises and treatments Josie's mother reminds her to do daily, Josie can never forget how different she is from everyone else.
Jordan, the new boy in the neighborhood, doesn't seem to notice Josie's uniqueness. He becomes Josie's first and only best friend. Before Jordan came along, Josie, having no friends, spent her time crocheting, gardening with Gran, or watching the workers build mansions behind her farm house, but when Jordan befriends her she experiences a whole new side of her life.
She and Jordan spend time making traps for insects, experimenting on the marigolds and catching tadpoles. Jordan even teaches her Morse code before they go on a family camping trip, so they can to tap out messages to each other through the bunk bed. Jordan accepts Josie just the way she is and is not bothered by her disability.
During this summer, Josie matures into a young woman and learns the importance of family through struggles with her mother and the complications of Gran's stroke. Zimmer suggests that Josie may even discover some new feelings for Jordan when they start school in the fall.
Zimmer's words paint detailed pictures through free verse poetry. This style of poetry is attractive with its few distinct rules or boundaries and the words are allowed to flow in their own uneven pattern. This permits Zimmer to emphasize phrases, making the book memorable. Her creative prose gives the story a colorful flair and keeps it upbeat; it will appeal to reluctant readers.
Here Josie talks about the special red plate:
"If you get good grades,
land a new job,
or just any small thing,
Gran will fix your favorite meal and
serve you on
our one red plate."
I would love to meet Josie Wyatt. I feel like I have been allowed to be a part of her intimate world: her thoughts and her feelings about her disability. I have not been around many people with disabilities, but after reading this book, I feel like Josie bridged some invisible gap between me and people with special needs.
I've never known exactly how someone with cerebral palsy feels, and I probably never will, but from Josie I learned that we, as humans, all have the capacity for the same feelings. Josie often felt the same way about herself as I have felt toward people with special needs: uncomfortable and unattached. Josie showed me that people like her just want to forget about their disability for a moment; be treated like everyone else and not be
"Reaching for Sun" should appeal to a wide-ranging audience because of the way Zimmer gathers her words to tell us the story of Josie and her relationships. However, I believe the book is geared towards pre-teen girls; they will be able to relate to Josie, her thoughts and her changing situations. This book will entertain everyone who reads it.