Author: Clare Vanderpool
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction
Themes: Loss, Family, Coming of Age
Age Range: 4th-8th Grade
Summary: (from Goodreads)
At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives
This newest novel from Newbery Award-winning author Clare Vanderpool is another beautiful example of how historical fiction can show us not just how things used to be, but how they still are. Jack and Early may have lived in 1940s Maine, but the grief that each of them feels, and the journey they take to find their footing again in a world suddenly turned upside down, is timeless and universal. Vanderpool has included some elements of magical realism within the story-not so much actual magic, but coincidences and fantastic events that give the whole story the feeling of myth. The story alternates between the real-life story of Jack and Early's adventure, and the story of Pi that Early claims to see in the numbers. It becomes clear to the reader as time goes on that Early is making his story reflect the journey that he hopes his brother has taken-one from the familiar to the unknown, from knowing his place in the world to feeling lost in the depths. The characterization and narrative structure are good for discussion, and students who are older or more mature may see parallels between Navigating Early and other stories that have heroic quests, which can lead to comparing and contrasting texts.