Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author
Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books, 2007, Fiction, Middle Grade
Suitable for ages: 8 and up
Theme: Cerebral Palsy, Friendship, Disabilities, Single-families
Reaching for Sun is a touching story about Josie Wyatt, a 13-year-old girl, who has a disability. The novel is written in free verse from Josie’s viewpoint. It’s simplicity and charm linger with you. I read it in one afternoon as I couldn’t put it down. The book is divided into four sections, each representing a season, and the chapters are short. Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, won the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors an author or illustrator for “an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” She certainly is deserving of the honor.
Josie has a mild form of cerebral palsy and wears leg braces. She knows what it feels like to be different. Josie attends special education classes at school, and physical, occupational and speech therapy at a clinic. She experiences social isolation and teasing from classmates. Josie wants to forget she has a disability. What she wants most is to have one friend. She lives on an aging farm with her busy mother, and Grandmother. She loves the patch of woods around her, nature and working in the gardens with Gran, who teaches Josie everything she knows. I believe verse works very well because it showcases Josie’s love of nature and the world around her. To hear Josie comment, “I’m the wisteria vine growing up the arbor of this odd family, reaching for sun,” resonates with her world.
She finds a friend in 12-year-old geeky, Jordan who is a walking encyclopedia on science and nature. Jordan lives in the neighborhood behind her farm with his widowed father, who has little time for his son. Jordan is very accepting of Josie, and understands what it feels like not to fit in. They become best friends. Jordan quickly becomes a member of Josie’s family and spends hours with them in the gardens. Says Josie, “He’s always excited about some new experiment to try in the garden or at the lab in his new basement. But I’ve learned this fact for myself: Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend.”
Reaching for Sun is a beautiful coming-of-age novel that will captivate your heart. Readers will enjoy spending time with Josie and learning about her world. I applaud the author for not dwelling on Josie’s cerebral palsy. Instead we watch Josie blossom throughout the year, and become more than her disability.
Tracie Vaughn Zimmer taught high school children with autism and middle grade school children with developmental and learning disabilities. Tracie has created hundreds of guides for children’s and young adult literature that are available for free on her blog. There is a special guide for Reaching for Sun in the Teacher Resources section.
Copyright (c) 2011, Patricia Howe Tilton, All Rights Reserved