January 30, 2011

Book Talk: Touch Blue

In Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord (F LOR) Tess and her family live on Bethsaida, a small island off the coast of Maine.  So many families have moved off the island, that there aren't enough children to keep the island school open.  As a last resort, the islanders decide to bring foster kids to the island to live with families and attend the school.  We meet Tess and her little sister Libby as they are waiting for the ferry to arrive with her new foster brother.  Tess has high hopes that he will be everything she wanted in a big brother.  Libby hopes that he will like reading and playing Monopoly.  When the ferry docks, Tess has a bad feeling- it's bad luck to have a red-head on a boat, and here is her new red-headed brother, Aaron.  Aaron doesn't say much, he roles his eyes and he seems to turn his nose up at island life.  At that moment, Tess decides that she will make Aaron want to stay and be her brother and she she tries so hard to make things work.  She relies on her good luck charms and superstitions to get her through this rough patch- like her blue sea glass and lucky pennies from the year she was born.  Each chapter of the book begins with a superstition that gives Tess strength: "Touch blue and your dreams will come true" and "Never whistle on a boat".
Tess has been told to give Aaron space and time to adjust to his new life- and she does.  She shows great restraint in questioning and pushing Aaron.  She lets him come to her and never presses him about his life before he came to the island.  Her patience pays off as Aaron grows to trust Tess.  She learns that Aaron lived with his mom until he was 5, and then he moved in with his grandmother when his mom's drinking got out of control.  After his grandma died, he lived with 2 other families before coming to the island.  He gave up jazz band and everything he knew when he was deserted by his last family and sent to live on the island.
At one point, Aaron packs his bags and is ready to board the ferry for the mainland.  He wants to live with his own mother, even if it means he has to care for her.  Tess realizes that she has been so worried about losing her school and island that she hasn't thought about how Aaron might be feeling.  Tess comes up with a plan to get Aaron's mother to the island, thinking that if he would see her one time, he would know that he is better off on the island.  By the end of the book, Tess learns that sometimes, all the good luck charms and superstitions can't bring you luck- you have to make your own luck.  She also realizes that as long as you have people around you that care about you, you will always belong.

Touch Blue would be a great book for teaching setting.  Cynthia Lord does such a great job of describing the Northeast surrounding, that I almost smelled the sea air and heard the seagulls.  It would be a great read aloud with a class that is studying US Regions.  You could also use this book to teach character because Tess grows so much by the end of the book.  This isn't a weepy, cry your eyes out book, although when I read Aaron's back story, I was ready to get a box of Kleenex.  Instead of creating yet another story of a foster kid that is helpless and abandoned, Cynthia Lord turns the foster kid into a person of great character and strength.  Kids going through a similar situation will find great inspiration from this book.
(Kelly Butcher 2010)  My 100th post... wicked cool!

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