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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Seventh Most Important Thing, written by Shelley Pearsall. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"As they stood there in the darkness, with little sunbursts of light from the tree shining on their clothes and faces, Arthur felt strangely hopeful for a minute. It was as if their old life had briefly flickered back on, like an old movie - as if none of the bad things had happened to them yet. Barbara, who could be a real pain in the butt sometimes, had this sweet, angelic expression on her face."

Dealing with his father's death has been extremely difficult for Arthur, as you would expect. So, on a November day in 1963, after learning that his mother has cleaned out the hall closet of all of his father's belongings, Arthur is uneasy, hurt, angry, and determined  to get his father's stuff back. Out he runs to check the garbage cans. The cans are empty. When he sees the old Junk Man, who wanders the nearby streets checking those cans and filling his old rickety shopping cart, wearing his father's Harley-Davidson hat he snaps! Furious and out of control he picks up a brick and heaves it at the old man, hitting him hard at the shoulder and earning himself a three week stay in Juvenile Detention.

His appearance in court is fraught with increased anguish; he must now face the judge for sentencing. Worse than that he must face James Hampton - the Junk Man - and see what his anger has done to him. The judge has a lot to say before finally pronouncing sentence:

"The judge fixed his gaze on Arthur. "Instead of sentencing you to the Juvenile Detention Home for an exceedingly long time - which I won't hesitate to do if I ever see you in my courtroom again - Mr. Hampton has requested that you be assigned to work for him until his arm has healed."

And now, you are at page 21.

What follows, as Arthur pays his debt to Mr. Hampton and society, is redemption versus retribution. Mr. James Hampton is a famous folk artist, best known for the Throne of the Third Heaven, an installation made from bits of light bulbs, foil, wood, coffee cans, mirrors, bottles and cardboard.  Now, Arthur is to collect those pieces of junk that Mr. Hampton can no longer gather. They are the seven most important things.

Arthur is wary of the Junk Man and has no idea why he is doing what he is doing. As luck would have it, Mr. Hampton becomes a mentor and a guide as Arthur struggles to accept all that is
happening in his life. When things go sideways, it is up to Arthur to prove that he is worthy of the redemption offered.

With wonderfully engaging characters, the novel explores grief, friendship, art, and love. The voices are strong and distinct. The humor is lighthearted and necessary. The pace kept me reading, always wanting to know more and inspired by the consistently good writing. 

An author's note and archival photographs of the artist and his work follow to provide context.

What a remarkable book to share in middle years classrooms!

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