Tag Archives: Foster children

How To Make Friends with the Dark – Kathleen Glasgow

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y648 (4)

Harper Collins Australia

April 2020

ISBN: 9781460751060

ISBN 10: 146075106X

Imprint: HarperCollins – AU

List Price: 19.99 AUD

 

Here is what happens when your mother dies.

My timing for reading this could have been better really. It was the 5th anniversary of losing my girl this past week, a scant fortnight before  Miss K’s 10th birthday. So at times it completely undid me reading Tiger’s story but trust me despite the heart-breaking poignancy there is also light and hope in this narrative.

Tiger and her mother have always been a team – just the two of them – in a little house with not much money but lots of love. There are often times when Tiger is completely fed up however: no money, no new clothes (her mother eclectically selects throw-outs from other people for her daughter) and above all her mother’s almost obsessive over-protectiveness.

Like most teenagers, Tiger is ready to rebel and does so spectacularly with a massive show-down with her mum about her plans to attend the upcoming big dance with one of her best friends, Kai – the boy she’s always really liked. As the mother-daughter conflict escalates during a day of constant texts and missed calls with Tiger refusing to countenance either her mother’s attitude or the hideous dress she’s found in a conciliatory gesture, the unimaginable happens. Tiger’s mother suffers a fatal aneurism and is dead within seconds – alone and as Tiger well knows, with her daughter’s last horrible words as the last exchange between them.

With no family to take her on, Tiger is immediately thrown into the maw of children’s services and foster homes and her ‘Grief Life’ consumes her and comes close to completely overwhelming the little resilience she might muster. And then, the most unexpected development turns everything on its head. Tiger has a half-sister and indeed, a father (who happens to be in jail)  – something for which Tiger has never been prepared, given her mother’s refusal to even discuss the past.  But the trauma isn’t over for Tiger. The journey of her adjustment to her new life, new family, new emptiness, new dark is at times harrowing and heartbreaking but ultimately some hope surfaces and perhaps – just maybe- Grief Life will ease, at least partly.

This is beautifully written and Tiger’s voice is compelling throughout. Make no mistake, it’s not an easy read emotionally but very much worth it. Our individual ability to process and then live with grief is unique to each – I know this only too well – but for anyone who has been in this aching abyss of blackness this could well be a book that will prove both cathartic and affirming.

I recommend it most wholeheartedly… but for mature readers from around 14 years upwards – there is some profanity and certainly some confronting situations/incidents as well. For your school library it’s definitely for your Middle to Upper secondary students.

Find teaching notes here.

The Pinballs – Betsy Byars

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pinballs

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780062881786

ISBN 10: 0062881787

Imprint: HarperCollins – US

July 2019

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.