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Monday, September 12, 2016

Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles, by Shari Green. Pajama Press, 2016. $11.95 ages 9 and up

"Next day Daniel and I
stop at the market
for root beer candy,
see Jasper coming out
with empty boxes -
big ones,
the kind you might use
for packing.

You're not leaving, are you?"

Bailey is looking for a miracle. Her parents are at marriage camp, while she and her brother Kevin are spending time on Arbutus Island with a grandmother they hardly know. It's unsettling, to say the least.

"Kevin's eyes bug out.
He opens his mouth
but I squash my own giggle
and shush him
before he has a chance to blurt out
My mother would never believe
that her mother
snitched a spoon -
or maybe
she would. Maybe
there's a reason
Nana Marie was last
on Mom's where-to-send-us

Luckily, as Bailey explores her new surroundings, she meets Daniel. They become fast friends and Bailey learns that Daniel has cystic fibrosis. Because of his illness, Daniel is a boy who lives each day to the fullest, and encourages his new friend to do the same. It is a tough lesson, knowing that there is nothing she can do about Daniel's health. She does learn, as the month passes by, that there are things she can change.

Shari Green has created characters who are complex, and thoughtful. Bailey's first person narrative brings awareness to the beautiful island setting, knowledge of the complex characters who people this new community, the pain inherent in keeping family secrets, a growing concern for others, and the courage to take a stand. Her support for the eccentric Jasper and her concern for a stranded dolphin are defining moments as she faces the tough challenge of growing up and into the person she will be.

This novel in verse is beautifully written. It is sure to find many fans in the middle grades, and would make a terrific readaloud for the first few weeks of school while teachers are trying to inspire  community spirit within their own classrooms.

"He pops back up,
swims to shore
in a flurry
of splashing,
runs up the steep trail
back to me,
grinning like mad.

           That was amazing, I say.
           Way to go, Kev.

Then I ask him
if he's going to do it
He shakes his head.

          Don't need to, he says.

I guess you never know
how brave you are
until you let go
of the rope."

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