Jump into the Sky

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Overview

Levi Battle's been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman—until Levi's grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi's staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it's 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it's time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to ...

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Jump into the Sky

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Overview

Levi Battle's been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman—until Levi's grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi's staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it's 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it's time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to Fayettville, North Carolina, where his father is currently stationed—last they knew.

So begins an eye-opening, life-changing journey for Levi. First lesson: there are different rules for African Americans in the South than there are in Chicago. And breaking them can have serious consequences. But with the help of some kind strangers, and despite the hindrances of some unkind ones, Levi makes his way across the United States—searching for his father and finding out about himself, his country, and what it truly means to belong.

Shelley Pearsall has created an unforgettable character in Levi and gives readers a remarkable tour of 1945 America through his eyes. Jump into the Sky is a tour de force of historical fiction from a writer at the very top of her game.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pearsall’s impressively detailed and voice-driven piece of historical fiction is set in the unstable year of 1945. Thirteen-year-old Levi Battle knows about abandonment: his mother left him on the seat of a car before skipping town when he was an infant, and his father, a paratrooper, left him with his Aunt Odella in Chicago after joining the military a few years ago. Now, out of nowhere, Aunt Odella has decided to send Levi by train to North Carolina, where his father is stationed. Levi has led a sheltered life, and the discrimination and violence he faces as an African-American in the South come as a shock. Unaware of Levi’s trip, his father is long gone when Levi arrives, so Cal, an injured soldier, and his pregnant wife, Peaches, take Levi in. Soon, the trio heads west to Oregon where Levi is reunited with his father. Pearsall (All Shook Up) constructs a tense and authentic portrait of WWII-era segregation and prejudice. The well-drawn setting, dynamic cast of characters, and Levi’s moral musings will command readers’ attention. Ages 10–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Booklist Best of Children's Books 2012

Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October 2012:
“Levi’s voice—humorous and acutely insightful—perfectly captures the viewpoint of a resilient young man whose feet sting from his first harsh landing in the adult world. Fans of Christopher Paul Curtis will fall right into line.”

Starred Review, Booklist, September 15, 2012:
“This poignant, powerful tale of father and son getting to know each other in small, delicate steps is suffused with Levi’s yearning for approval. Strong characterizations on all sides support the weighty story line.”

VOYA - Ava Ehde
Being left behind was commonplace for thirteen-year-old Levi Battle. His mama, the jazz singer "Queen Bee" Walker, left him wrapped in her fur coat on the front seat of the car when he was just a baby with a short note which read, "I Am Levin." Her misspelling became Levi's shortened name. His daddy, Lieutenant Charlie "Boots" Battle, has made a lifelong habit out of leaving Levi. He has spent years as a door-to-door salesman, a baseball player, and then with the Army. In 1945, at nearly the end of the war, his aunt Odella has decided she has spent enough time raising him, so she has bought him a ticket and sent him from his home in Chicago to the North Carolina U.S. Army post where his father is currently stationed. Levi's journey thrusts him, for the first time, amidst the mistreatment and difficulties of being black in the South. Is it really possible that all the tales he has heard of his father's secret missions as a "triple nickel" of the 555th colored parachute regiment are true? This well-written fictional account of the 555th, a highly skilled historic parachute regiment comprised of African Americans, was created from first hand stories. It is a very interesting and inspirational read, well-researched and edifying. The story moves along at a good pace, despite the fact that there is not a lot of action. This is a great historical story with important notes of bravery, which will hook readers if enticed. Reviewer: Ava Ehde
Kirkus Reviews
The tone is as welcoming as warm honey over corn bread. Ah, if only a coming-of-age novel could live by bread alone. Pearsall, 2003 winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction with Trouble Don't Last, presents the excellently researched tale of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, little known all-black paratroopers serving during WWII. Her tale of 13-year-old Levi Battle's struggle to find his place in the world during World War II should be the kind of book teachers handpick for their students, especially reluctant-to-read males. However, if this effusive, lengthy story is bread and honey, the flavor, drowned in similes, metaphors and foreshadowing, gets diminished by too much "writing." Strip away the excess, and you've got the tender story of a displaced boy hungry to connect with the war-hero father who is more legend than parent. Dumped at his Aunt Odella's because his father is at war and his mama has run off, Levi is stunned to learn his aunt is packing him off to his father at a base in North Carolina. The Chicago boy is plunged into the racist South, with its separate drinking fountains and oppression that hangs like humidity. The dawdling pace and obvious, militaristic similes combine to undercut its top-notch research and compelling premise for a disappointing conclusion. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Twelve-year-old Levi Battle had been living with his Aunt Odella in Chicago. His mother left when he was only a few months old, and his father had been serving in the U.S. Army for the past three years. In May, 1945, with the war coming to an end, Aunt Odella decided that Levi and his father should be reunited. Without any forewarning, she put Levi on a train for South Carolina, a journey that would eventually take him to Pendleton, Oregon. Levi's father was a member of the first Black paratroopers, one of the "Triple Nickles" which was the nickname given to the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The first-person narration allows the story to unfold from Levi's perspective. He is a likeable character, both frightened and perplexed by the discrimination he faces. This elite group of paratroopers is also perplexed by the way they are treated by the U.S. Army. The author's tone, phrasing and expressions give the reader insight and often a chuckle that relieves some of the tension of the story. She does a fine job of showing the frustration of the soldiers, the impact of war, the bewilderment of a young adolescent, and his developing relationship with a father who has been absent most of his life. There are other memorable characters as well, who help Levi to learn about himself and the world around him. Readers will be cheering for both Levi and the Triple Nickles.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–9—Levi has been left behind all of his life, first by his mother when he was an infant, then by his father for a job and later the Army, and now by his aunt for relief from the responsibility of raising him. Toward the end of World War II, Aunt Odella puts the 13-year-old on a train by himself from Chicago to North Carolina to join his father who is stationed there, without telling her brother. Upon reaching the base, Levi learns that his father's unit, an all-black paratrooper unit, has just shipped out for Oregon. One of the men is still on base recuperating from an injury. He and his family take Levi into their home until they can rejoin the unit. Slowly Levi and his father begin to learn about each other after their three-year separation, and Levi also learns the meaning of sticking up for who and what you believe in. Although the title leads one to think the book is about the paratroopers, the primary focus is on Levi and the wartime home front as the color lines were beginning to change. While Levi rails against the segregation in the South and the "invisibility" he finds in the West, the African American paratroopers are frustrated that although they are well trained, they are not allowed to fight for their country. This fine historical novel is well written and Levi is a fully developed character. However, readers looking for action and adventure should look elsewhere.—Nancy Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375836992
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 544,553
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.34 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

A former teacher and museum historian, SHELLEY PEARSALL is now a full-time writer. Her first novel, Trouble Don't Last, won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. To learn more about the author and her work, visit ShelleyPearsall.com.

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Read an Excerpt

1. Fifth of May

Whenever something bad happened, my aunt Odella was always quick to say how the end of one thing was the beginning of something else. During the war, she cooked for a lot of church funerals, where any comforting morsels of wisdom you could hand out to grieving folks with a plate of fried chicken and green beans sure came in real handy. Maybe that’s where it all started, who knows.

To be honest, the spring of 1945 was so full of endings, sometimes it was hard to make a guess as to what the beginnings might be. It was the end of Hitler, of course, although nobody would fry a chicken’s eyeball over him being dead. A lot of people were saying it would be the end of the Nazis and the whole war itself pretty soon, if we were lucky. But the crazy Japs kept insisting no matter what happened, they’d keep on fighting forever.

Seeing how often Aunt Odella handed out her funeral advice to other folks, I shoulda realized the day would come when she’d turn around and use the same words on me. But it was like the Japs sneaking up on Pearl Harbor while the entire country was sleeping. I was taken by complete surprise when she did.

I remember it was early on a Saturday, the first week of May, when Aunt Odella came barging into my room like the blitz. I was loafing in bed, half asleep, half awake, my big feet drifting over the edge. They’d been doing that a lot. Or maybe the bed was drifting out from under them—I’m telling you, I was thirteen with feet the size of U‑boats.

My mind was drifting too. I shoulda been thinking about my father, who was serving in the army, and who was still staring at me from the same picture frame he’d been stuck in since he left. Or my best friend Archie’s older brother who was missing in action, they said, and who could be dead somewhere over there in Germany.

But I gotta admit I was thinking about girls.

I was wondering if the stocking on my scalp was gonna make any difference at all. Every Friday night Aunt Odella smeared my head with a thick coat of Vaseline and pulled one of her old stockings over my hair, pressing it down smooth. Then I had to wear the fool thing all night, praying like the dickens that there wouldn’t be an air raid drill or half of Chicago would see me with ladies’ hosiery stretched around my skull.

“You gotta start early if you want good smooth hair when you grow up, so all those colored girls will like you,” Aunt Odella insisted. Good hair lays flat. Bad hair springs up in clumps. Clumpy hair. That’s what my aunt called it. Lately she’d been worrying a lot about my looks and my future.

I tried telling Aunt Odella how there wasn’t a girl who would get within a hundred and fifty miles of me if she knew I wore stockings and Vaseline on my head every Friday night. Heck, no girl got within fifty miles of me now anyhow, which was fine with me. “Good to hear it. You be sure and keep it that way,” my aunt would say, slapping on some more grease.

So I was lying there with a stocking stuck to my scalp and my big feet dangling over the bed when Aunt Odella came in that Saturday morning and made a beeline for the window next to me. She pounded her fist on the frame that hadn’t moved since last November. “Open up.” After pushing that stubborn window toward the sky, she took a deep gulp of the Chicago morning stink, turned around, and announced to me and the world, “It’s a new day, Levi. And I’ve decided it’s time to start thinking about your future.”

Like I said, this was a favorite theme of hers. The future. I gotta admit there were times during the war when none of us were real sure we’d get one, what with Hitler and all. But since Germany seemed to be on the verge of surrendering, maybe there was hope for us yet.

Through my half-shut eyelids, I watched warily as Aunt Odella planted herself on one corner of my bed like she owned it. Which she did, of course. When I’d come to stay in her tiny apartment after my daddy left for the war, she’d given up her only bed and moved out to a cot in the front room, so she could have her space and I could have mine. Who knew she’d be sleeping out there for three years?

Aunt Odella wasn’t a small person either. Man oh man, just about every night I’d hear that rickety cot creaking as she sat down on it and Aunt Odella hollering how the whole thing was gonna fold up and squash her flat as a bug one of these times. “I hope you’re paying attention to all these sacrifices I’ve been making for you and your daddy and the war, Levi,” she’d shout as she wrestled with the fold-up metal legs, “especially if I die here tonight in this cot.”

She called me a sacrifice about ten times a day. I was used to it.

From where she was sitting at the end of the bed, Aunt Odella pretended to be studying a spot on the wall above me. The wallpaper in the room was pink roses, good God. I couldn’t tell which rose she was staring at. I tried not to look at them to begin with.

“So, I’ve gone and made up my mind about a few things,” Aunt Odella said in this determined-sounding voice, and I thought, Oh no—because my aunt making up her mind was like the Germans deciding to invade Poland. There was no defense.

I figured she was probably planning to sign me up for the church choir. Because of the war, Shiloh First Baptist’s chair was often short of men, and Aunt Odella was always threatening to volunteer me to sing. I sent up a quick prayer: Please, dear God almighty, not the choir. I could carry a tune, but I’d rather lug hot coals across the Sahara than sing with a bunch of old ladies who wore choir robes resembling first—aid tents.

What Aunt Odella said next was nothing I ever saw coming.

“In life, you know how the end of one thing is often the beginning of something else?” She glanced over at me.

“Yes ma’am.” I nodded my stocking-covered head as if this was the very first time I’d heard those familiar words. Part of me wondered if a funeral plate of fried chicken and green beans was gonna appear next.

“Well, this is one of those beginning and ending times, Levi. Because I believe I’ve done more than my share in raising you. More than most folks my age woulda done.” Aunt Odella continued, “And with the war ending soon, I think it’s time for a change in both our lives.”

That’s when I suddenly got a real bad feeling about what was coming next.

I watched as my aunt gathered a big steadying breath, squared her shoulders, and with no more emotion than if she was an officer ordering his men to storm the beaches of Normandy, she said how she knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she’d decided the time had come for me to move on. To go somewhere else. To leave.

And, you know, part of my brain just couldn’t believe I was hearing her right. While there were days when I’d wished on every darned star and planet in the sky to be living somewhere else, I never thought my aunt—who knew my whole life like an open book—would ever think of sending me away.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    Love it

    90000000000000 stars if i could! Awesome book! Ive met ms pearsall! :)

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