Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt

My family usually gets upset with me every December. They love to watch the same holiday movies year after year: “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “Christmas Vacation,” “White Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and so on. They tell me I hate to watch movies. I just don’t like watching movies more than once. Of course I end up watching them anyway, and occasionally I’ll even observe something I’ve never noticed the first 20 times.

I don't like to admit it, but I don't like to read the same book more than once either. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I’m not proud of it because I want to be like some of the best readers in our school. The ones that like to read the same book more than once. In my opinion, they know one of secrets to becoming a really good reader.

Well, it doesn’t happen often, but I have a new book to place on my to-read-again pile. This book is also my favorite of 2011. It's called, Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt.

This book has an unforgettable character by the name of Doug Swieteck. You may remember him from the book, The Wednesday Wars. In The Wednesday Wars Doug created a list of 410 ways to get a teacher to hate you. In, Okay for Now, Doug doesn’t even have to try in order to get people to dislike him. After his family moves to Marysville, NY, Doug immediately makes a bad first impression on almost everyone. Even neighborhood dogs too lazy to bark know he doesn’t belong.

It didn’t help that Doug was the only new 8th grader to show up at open house night. It also didn’t help that Principal Peattie always talked in the third person. Principal Peattie would say things like: “Tell Principal Peattie your name.” or “Principal Peattie is sure we’ll get along fine.” or “Look at Principle Peattie in the eye [when he is talking to you].” After listening to Principal Peattie go through the school bathroom rules someone else decided to talk in third person. Like a knee jerk, Doug blurted out:

“Doug Swieteck has a question…suppose Doug Swieteck has to go to the bathroom more than three times?”

Principle Peattie set his [copy of the rules] down on the desk in front of him.

‘Then Doug Swieteck would need to see the nurse,” said Principal Peattie.

“How’s that going to help?” Doug said.

Every kid in the classroom laughed. Every one.

Principal Peattie did not laugh.

Word spreads fast in a small town. Word spreads even faster in a junior high school. Doug was a marked man. Even the girl that Doug started to like called him a “skinny thug."

You’d think the public library would be the one place in Marysville that Doug would be treated okay, but even the librarian casts a suspicious glance at him, like he doesn't belong. But, as he walked up the staircase to the second floor the librarian might have witnessed Doug making the greatest discovery of his life. At the top of the staircase was a glass box with a huge book with pages longer than a baseball bat. Inside only one page plate was being displayed- the image of a bird called the Arctic Tern. Doug thinks this is the most terrifying painting he has ever seen, and the most beautiful.

As he leaned closer, the glass fogged up and immediately something inside of Doug took over. He held his hand as if he had a pencil in it. Then his hand automatically traced the image of the bird on the glass, but saving for last, the round and terrifying eye.

The moment Doug looked at the Arctic Tern his life transformed. What happened may never change how other people look at him, but this moment will change the way Doug sees himself. Doug Swieteck discovered something he could do better than most. And, in a way, this was the first book he could really read and never get tired of.

What happened to Doug? Why is he so fixated on an image of a bird behind a glass case? Why does he think the eye is so terrifying? And, why was this one of the few books that Doug can read better than most? These are just a few of the many questions you will want answers to about a character named Doug Swieteck.

If you like unforgettable characters, if you are not afraid of a book that might make you want to read it again, and if you like stories that have a little more staying power, then Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt, is the book for you.

(Teachers, if you are looking for a vehicle to teach inferences, this would be a great book for you too.)

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