he two best things about snow days are being home with Nigel, Merl, and Charlotte, and having a good book to read cover-to-cover. That's what I did Monday, I read Joan Bauer's heartfelt and heartbreaking novel for middle readers, Almost Home. The dog, Shush, an important supporting character, is a constant reminder of the power of the human-animal bond.
Good Reads succinctly encapsulates the book, When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.
It's a good summary, but it doesn't highlight the heart, truths, and emotional roller-coaster that makes Almost Home an ideal snow-day read. Sugar Mae Cole, the narrator/protagonist acquaints readers with her dead grandfather, King Cole, through his writings -- he left behind an autobiography complete with all sorts of King Cole-isms, email exchanges with her beloved 6th grade teacher Mr. B, and her own poetry,including a poem about her father that was written in response to the prompt, write a stirring paragraph on one way you have seen persuasion misused.... Sugar's poem begins -
There are people in our lives we cannot trust
One of those people in my life is my father.
That poem sets the stage for a sequence of events that spins Sugar's life out of control. There are many folks who are rooting for Sugar Mae Cole. But, all of the support, including that from Shush, the little dog who was formerly kicked when he barked and spooked by just about everything, does not offer what is most important to a 12-year-old -- stability. As the pieces start coming together, Reba, Sugar's mother, tells her, "You go out there, Miss sugar, and show'em what it means to be sweet." In spite of all that life tosses her way, Sugar is filled with sweetness. But, she is also got a tenacious pre-teen who, in the words of Mr. B, is Exceedingly Courageous and Insightful.
I sat in my rocking chair Monday, looked over at Merl snoozing in the sunshine, wrapped my fleece blanket around me and enjoyed Almost Home -- a nice snow day treat.