Friday, July 13, 2012

Touch Blue, by Cynthia Lord

Title:  Touch Blue
Author:  Cynthia Lord
Publisher:  Scholastic
Year:  2010
Pages:  192
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Family, Hope, Happiness, Loss
Age Range:  3rd through 6th Grade

Summary:  from Goodreads

The state of Maine plans to shut down her island’s schoolhouse, which would force Tess’s family to move to the mainland--and Tess to leave the only home she has ever known. Fortunately, the islanders have a plan too: increase the numbers of students by having several families take in foster children. So now Tess and her family are taking a chance on Aaron, a thirteen-year-old trumpet player who has been bounced from home to home. And Tess needs a plan of her own--and all the luck she can muster. Will Tess’s wish come true or will her luck run out?


I thought that Touch Blue was a completely charming book, though I will admit to being predisposed to like it from a setting point of view.  While I grew up in the Midwest and consider Chicago the greatest city on earth, my family is from Rhode Island, and I feel like at least part of my heart is with my aunts, uncles, and cousins in New England.  And, I have always thought it would be really amazing to live on an island that you had to get to by ferry.  I realize this is in direct contradiction to my love of the Dunkin' Donut's drive thru, but  I think the peace and beauty and easily accessible seafood might make up for it!

At first I was a little bit put off by the islanders basically using those foster kids to keep their school, but given some of the foster parents I've had experience with over the years I can say first hand there are worse reasons to go into foster parenting!  What sold me was how much the islanders wanted the children to feel welcomed, and how hard they worked to make them feel at home.  Of course, children who have been displaced as many times as these children have been are bound to be skittish and unsure-why make relationships or develop feelings for people you can be snatched away from at any moment?  Aaron's demeanor and reactions to his new situation felt very authentic to me.

Tess's superstitions about luck were amusing at first, but it quickly became clear that it was all an effort to control her own feelings of worry about change in her own future.  First, the change of a new child coming into her family, but also worry about whether her best friend who had moved away still liked her, worry about having to move off the island if the school closed, worry that Aaron's mom would take him back.  Her father said it best when he reminded her that she is more than where she comes from-she carries her own happiness inside of her, if she can just let go of some of her fear and recognize it.

This book introduces the concept of foster care in a fairly benign way.  So many stories of children in foster care are tragic and sad.  This story has it's emotional highs and lows, but it portrays those working in the foster care system as caring individuals who consider the needs and desires of the children the serve.  This is not always the case, and caseworkers are often portrayed as neglectful/clueless/mean/absent.  I think it would help upper-elementary-age kids who haven't had experience with foster care understand what it is supposed to be.  This book would be a good addition to a unit on family, since a lot of it deals with exactly what makes a family.  One of the central questions Tess's family had to face was how to make Aaron feel welcome and included in their family without dishonoring his own biological family.  There is a lot of good discussion fodder in this one.

Teacher Resources:
Grand Canyon Award Teacher's Guide Teacher's Guide

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