by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2016
Last year, among the more than 52 books I read aloud to my own children, we read “The Boy on the Porch” by Sharon Creech. It was a powerful book for us. We are deeply feeling three people–Felix and Annie and I. We love when characters are portrayed with goodness and kindness. After reading Creech’s book, we went for a long walk to watch the sunset. None of us spoke a word for over an hour. Then Felix broke the silence by saying, “that book needed time to settle into our bones I guess.” We nodded. This year when Barbara O’Connor’s ARC of “Wish” arrived, both kids said “That’s our next read aloud!”
O’Connor’s “Wish” is just as powerful. In fact, we have stopped and re-read parts so we could admire the character shifts and mannerisms. My children have asked me to slow down so they could think about why the main character Charlie finds it so difficult to be kind. “She must be in pain because her mama doesn’t love her,” my son states. “I think she’s so sad she can’t see what she does have,” my daughter explains. Since emotional understanding and empathy is a critical component of how I raise my children, I was so pleased to see my kid’s transformed thinking.
Charlie Reese is eleven years old in North Carolina. Scrappy, her dad, is in a correctional facility and her Mama won’t get out of bed. So Charlie is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Colby NC. The thing that made me unbelievably happy is that her aunt and uncle, Bertha and Gus, are two of the kindest, most loving adults you could ever meet. Charlie learns what love is through their endless proof of understanding, but also because of what she sees every day.
“He thinks I married him for his looks.” Bertha winked at me. “But I married him for his brains,” she said.
And then the most amazing thing happened. They both reached out at the exact same time and held hands. It was like somebody had said, “Okay, on the count of three, hold hands.” I’d never in my whole life seen Scrappy and Mama hold hands. Shoot, most of the time, they didn’t even look at each other.
O’Connor’s writing reflects both her incredible observation skills and her excellent use of the English language. This is a story told entirely through the words and actions of her characters. She is not a story’tell’er, but rather O’Connor presents us with a scene and lets us take what we can from it. She expects her readers to be smart and it feels good. I could see my children feel proud when they puzzled out what was happening instead of having it explained to them. O’Connor’s intelligent, well researched writing makes me proud to share her books with parents, teachers and children.