Elementary: Trends Older

, Middle School


Barbara O’Connor







“You need a stable family environment.”
“You need a family that’s not all broken like yours is.”

Charlie finds herself leaving her city home in Raleigh, North Carolina, sent away to small-town Colby, through no fault of her own. Her father is in jail for fighting and now he’s “getting corrected,” and her mother is depressed and can’t “get her feet on the ground.” As unstable as her life is, Charlie is comfortable in Raleigh. When she is sent to live with relatives she does not know in that “sorry excuse for a town,” it feels like foster care in Siberia.

As it turns out, the backwoods town of Colby has a wealth of riches to offer Charlie: a curious and constructive true friend, Howard; a loving surrogate family full of children and food and good will, the Odoms; a stray dog to care for and love, Wishbone; and an aunt and uncle who offer her nothing but folksy wisdom, love, and acceptance.

Award-winning Barbara O’Conner has crafted a fish-out-of-water novel that teaches Charlie, and the reader, a host of lessons in how to recognize your blessings, how to seize opportunities, and how to see what people you don’t yet know have to offer.

“If all our troubles were hung on a line, you’d choose yours and I’d choose mine.”

Readers of all ages, at home and at school, will relish the way O’Connor crafts these moments and how Charlie learns these lessons. Here is how Charlie perceives her aunt, Bertha, who she has come to know and love…

“She smelled like someone who spent her days in the kitchen. Bacon and coffee and cinnamon. But she looked like someone who spent her days outdoors. Arms tan and leathery. Dirt under her fingernails.” 

There are plenty of rough or worrisome moments along the way as Charlie makes mistakes, hurts people’s feelings, and learns to control her emotions. Most helpfully, her friend Howard utters the word “pineapple” whenever Charlie is about to lose her temper or offend someone. It starts to work, and Charlie learns to trust the sort of support everyone deserves.

Charlie also corresponds with her older sister, Jackie, still in Raleigh. And she has to manage the possibility of being returned to her mother’s uncertain and unreliable care. But Charlie absorbs such a bounty of warmth and love from her time in Colby, it feels like she’s gained the strength for whatever may come next.

“I wished I could’ve saved that moment there in that weed-filled yard surrounded by those good-hearted Odoms, with Wishbone sitting there on the cooler in front of us. Just pack it into one of Bertha’s canning jars to keep in my room.” 

All readers will share Charlie’s boundless sense of appreciation, wanting to save the warmth of this beautiful book in a canning jar.

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