This memorable novel, a skillful combination of real life and fantasy, is by turns uplifting and saddening. Set in 1955 against the backdrop of the polio epidemic in the period just before Jonas Salk's vaccine, the story follows three “polios”—Dickie, Carolyn, and Chip—as their once-lithe bodies deteriorate in iron lungs in a polio ward. A bright spot comes when 11-year-old Laurie Valentine, a gifted storyteller and Dickie's best friend, regales them with tales of a boy's quest to slay a marauding giant with the help of a majestic unicorn hunter, an oxen driver, and Jessamine, the Swamp Witch. As Laurie concocts each installment, Dickie, Carolyn, Chip, and other kids from the ward begin to recognize themselves in the parable's heroic characters—their first glimmer of hope (and distraction from their illness) in years. Grave illnesses such as polio are a difficult topic, and Lawrence's (the Curse of the Jolly Stone trilogy) delicate intermingling of fantasy and reality brings poignancy to the material. Distinctive, emotionally honest characters and consistently engrossing prose make this book a standout. Ages 8–12. (Nov.)
VOYA - Cynthia Grady
In 1955, eleven-year-old Laurie Valentine lives with her widowed father, who works for a polio prevention foundation. The two endure lonely, frightened lives, where budding daffodils signify the beginning of polio season rather than spring. Laurie's new and only friend, Dickie Espinosa, contracts polio shortly after they meet. Against her father's wishes, Laurie visits Dickie and the other children in the hospital and begins to tell them a spell-binding tale of Collosso the giant, a greedy innkeeper, travelers, great hunters, a questionable swamp witch, trolls, gnomes, and charlatans. Lying paralyzed in their iron lungs, the children, each with a story of his own, are active listenersinterrupting and predictingcreating a community of humanity. Lawrence's masterful novel is crafted with folkloric hyperbole and dry humor, which imbues readers with the power of story to build community, entertain, create meaning, and heal. Along the way, Lawrence drops in occasional cultural references and dialogue, "Keen!" to keep the fantastical story grounded in the 1950s. This heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful story-within-a-story is seamless. An author's note on the polio epidemic in North America is included. Reviewer: Cynthia Grady
The year is 1955, and 11-year-old Laurie Valentine is lonely. Her father is a fundraiser for polio prevention and is so paranoid about the disease that his daughter is terrified of daffodils-the harbinger of polio season. When Laurie's only friend in the world, Dickie Espinosa, contracts polio and ends up in an iron lung, she sneaks off to the hospital and begins to tell her tragically captive audience a fantastical story about a six-ton giant named Collosso and the boy who was born to slay him-populating her richly drawn world with greedy charlatans, Gypsies, great hunters, gnomes and the shamefully unmagical Swamp Witch who is "half woman, half baloney." The children's eager interruptions, predictions and interpretations-aptly peppered with '50s lingo and cultural references-all shape a fluid narrative that will break readers' hearts and then, impossibly, lift them back up. This profound, magical, dryly comical novel reminds readers of the power of story, but they will already be feeling it in their bones. Masterful. (author's note about the history of polio in North America, acknowledgments) (Historical fiction. 11 & up)
From the Publisher
Review, The Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2009:
"Young Readers...will not quickly forget this moving, imaginative glimpse of the not-so-long ago past."
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, November 16, 2009:
"Distinctive, emotionally honest characters and consistently engrossing prose make this book a standout."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, October 16, 2009:
"This profound, magical, dryly comical novel reminds readers of the power of story, but they will already be feeling it in their bones. Masterful."
Children's Literature - Renee Farrah Vess
It is 1955, and Laurie Valentine has finally made a friend with Dickey, the new boy that lives down the street. But when Dickey is stricken with polio, Laurie is determined to visit him, even if it is against her father's wishes. She finds Dickey in an iron lung, in a room with two other polio patients, Chip and Carolyn. To entertain them, and to keep her mind off the upsetting situation, Laurie begins to tell a story about Jimmy the giant-slayer. As the story progresses, Dickey, Chip, Carolyn, and as well as other polio patients that have gathered to listen to the story, start to strongly identify with the characters. They each fervently believe the fate of the story characters affects their own outcome. This is a powerful and subdued story that seamlessly floats between 1955's polio ward and Jimmy's world filled with Colloso the giant, the Swamp Witch, Khan the hunter, and mystical beasts. In both worlds there is a sense of wonder and mystery that ends up in a perfectly balanced book. This is a great conversation starter about polio and a look at how healthy imagination and fantasy can be, as well as a truly poignant, and humbly deep read which does not become overwhelming. Reviewer: Renee Farrah Vess