Monday, May 22, 2017

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

There are authors that are an integral part of our classroom. Laurel Snyder was one such author in my fifth grade classroom, and now my seventh grade classroom as well. One student described her writing as honest. To my middle school students, that's important. This year I was conferring with one child about Laurel's Bigger Than a Bread Box. They were describing why they loved it so and then paused, flipped back to the beginning, pointed to a scene where the main character, Rebecca, must get in a car with her mom and brother. They are leaving her father who stands outside the car, crying, begging them not to go. My student pointed at that scene, tapped it, and whispered, "She gets it." 

Laurel's writing wraps tendrils of stories around my students as they read, not letting go once they are done. Her books speak to their hearts and souls in a way that they absolutely treasure. Her new book, Orphan Island, is one that does just that. I brought the advanced copy in this past November and so many children have read it since then that it is literally falling apart. 

Here we have a remote island where a group of nine children live on their own. I was obsessed with the Swiss Family Robinson as a kid and this book spoke to those memories perfectly. These nine children aren't sure how they came to live on the island, they only know that everything is perfect there. They are fed, there are structures built for living by those who came before. Every need is taken care of and it's a happy life - you only have to abide by one rule. Once a year a canoe arrives with a young child in it. That child will come to live on the island and the oldest member of the island will leave in the same canoe. They aren't sure where the canoe takes them, only that it is time to go. The next oldest child will become the Elder on the island, teaching the new child how to adapt until it is there turn to leave. This is the rule and this is how life is. Until it's Jinny's year.

Orphan Island opens with the arrival of the canoe. Deen, Jinny's best friend and the current elder, must leave in it. Ess, the new member and Jinny's responsibility for the year, gets out and Deen gets in, although Jinny begs him to stay. With her best friend gone, Jinny is lost for much of the year, trying to figure out how to raise a child and deal with her own morning of growing up herself. It isn't until her canoe arrives that Jinny's internal struggle becomes apparent not only to herself, but the other kids on the island. 

I've been mulling over why my students have connected so deeply to this book this year. I think it's because many of my seventh graders find themselves exactly where Jinny is - one foot is left in childhood, the other stepping squarely into there teenage years and beyond. Seventh graders are ready to play with toys one moment, and craft the perfect photo for social media the next. They are in a state of constant conflux, living in two worlds and figuring out where they belong. They know it's time to move forward, but they often look back to their younger years, longing for a time when everything felt safe, known.

Orphan Island will be released on May 30th of this year. If you haven't read it yet, remedy this immediately. I will be purchasing replacement copies for my classroom because I have a feeling that next year's seventh graders will see themselves in Jinny too. This book is one we will treasure for years to come.

Schedule for Blog Tour

May 15: LibLaura5

May 20: Book Monsters