Navigating early by Clare Vanderpool.
At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.
What did I think about this book?
I LOVED THIS BOOK and thought about it long after I had closed the pages. The writing is beautiful and there is depth in the plot and characters…but I wonder if the story could have been developed even further and possibly published as an adult novel? This is a tricky review to write and I am thinking about how hard a “sell” this might be to my students (My oldest are Year 6 – equivalent to 5th Grade in the USA).
So many books these days have action from the start and many readers rely on that to get them hooked. Part of my role in developing readers is to get them to see the value of a strong build up in a story i.e. getting to know the characters, the setting, the back story – before reaching the action. I know that there will be students in my school community who aren’t mature enough readers to persevere past the first chapter or two. I found the start slow and whilst I am well aware that “good things take time” my reading enjoyment was punctuated with fears about whether or not I could get anyone to read this. Once Early and Jack have left the school and are on their adventure, the pace picks up considerably and there is action and adventure aplenty. Unfortunately it’s almost too much happening too soon and so many dangerous and unsettling things happen in quick succession. Whilst the action and adventure ties in with the parallel story about pi, it did stretch credibility somewhat.
This isn’t a title I would book talk with a whole year level, however I believe this would be valuable and moving read aloud to a group from Year 6-Year 9. Some of my more thinking and mature students will want to read this, but I would prefer to show them the book and talk about it individually . It is likely I will offer this copy to our Middle/Senior library for their collection as I am confident more of their students will enjoy it. As Kirkus Reviews said “Navigating this stunning novel requires thought and concentration, but it’s well worth the effort.”
Reviews – I’m pasting links to these, because all of them had insightful yet differing views on this book:
Travis Jonker 100scope notes: