ISBN 10: 0062881787
Imprint: HarperCollins – US
List Price: 16.99 AUD
Now in her 90s award-winning American author Betsy Byars first published The Pinballs in 1977. As I re-read this new edition I wondered if she thought that perhaps the fate of some children might improve over time. It seems that the plight of so many is far worse than the children in her novel, a sad and terrible indictment of our human society.
Three foster children are placed with a warm and loving couple, the Masons, who have successfully changed the lives of 17 other children.
Carlie is the first to arrive, having been removed from the reach of a violent stepfather by children’s services. She is brash and sarcastic but hides an unbearable longing to be with her mother and siblings.
Next is Harvey who is confined to a wheelchair after his father ‘accidentally’ running him over and breaking both his legs. Since Harvey’s mother left when he was small, he has had to basically fend for himself and his greatest desire is to find his mother on the commune/farm she calls her new home.
Thomas J was a mere toddler when he wandered up the driveway of the aged Benson twins’ farm, apparently abandoned. The spinster sisters took him in and always meant to contact the authorities but somehow never did. With both of them in the hospital after bad falls there is no one else to care for the small boy who doesn’t even know his real name or birthday.
At first it seems the disparate personalities of the three kids will cause friction but as time goes by and circumstances change for all of them, their friendship deepens. They cease to be ‘pinballs’ bouncing around from bad situation to worse and start to become a bonded family. The patience and kindness of the Masons has much to do with this and they gradually build the self-esteem of each child.
It’s not a long book, more a novella really, but it is packed with emotions: poignancy, grief, humour, self-awareness and more.
Despite its age and references to 70s contemporary pop culture such as TV shows or toys, this is a book that truly stands the test of time and is just as, if not more, relevant in these times.
If you are looking for a different read-aloud for your middle school kiddos this would be a wonderful choice and an introduction to the other great works by Byars. I know that my year 5s once upon a time also loved The Great Gilly Hopkins but there are many others from which to choose. You will also find plenty of teaching notes etc for this book which is often used in US schools.
Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.