Friday, July 4, 2008

Book Review: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt

Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours.

He didn't know how much longer he could stand it.

Life as a minister's son was a heavy weight to bear. He was always getting caught doing something unbecoming a minister's son: running down the street, having his hands in his pockets, getting his starched white shirt dirty. Why, this boy from Boston couldn't even hit a baseball well enough to satisfy the townspeople. It was enough to make Turner Ernest Buckminster III want to light out for the Territories, "...where being a minister's son wouldn't matter worth a...well, worth a darn." Until he meets three people who impact his life in unexpected ways:

Turner meets Mrs. Cobb when the rock he skips down the street hits the fence her grandfather built with his own two hands. His relationship with Mrs. Cobb, who obsesses over having her final words heard by someone before she goes on to the hearafter, takes a decidedly surprising turn.

When he meets Mrs. Elia Hurd - the elderly mother of a church deacon - he's surprised to find in her a kindred spirit. "So, Turner Buckminster III," she asked, "when you look through the number at the end of your name, does it seem like you're looking through prison bars?"

And when he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, she teaches him about how to hit a baseball in this Maine town, and shows him where to dig for clams, and introduces him to life on Malaga Island.

But then, Turner and Lizzie find out about the town leaders' plan to rid Malaga Island of its black inhabitants to make room for a new tourism trade. As the two friends try to save the island's people, their lives are changed forever.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book is based on the actual events of Malaga Island's destruction in 1912. You can easily use this book as part of history units involving racism, treatment of black people, and ways of life for whites and blacks in the early 1900's in America. It is a perfect springboard into a research project on Malaga Island - locate Phippsburg and Malaga Island on a map, make a timeline of events leading to the destruction of the island, have the kids make profiles of the people living there, let them search the web to find photographs of the people and homes involved - both in Phippsburg and on Malaga Island. Let them compare and contrast the books events with the actual historical events. Have them create a map of how the two places looked in 1912, and how things look in present day. This book will bring up discussions on friendship, loyalty, family relationships, right vs wrong... There are a lot of ways to go with this one. How will you introduce this compelling story into your students' lives?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
What a powerful piece of historical fiction. Kids will likely have a lot of questions as they read this book, and a lot of emotions may come forth. It's an important piece of work, because it shows your kids how blacks and whites lived and viewed each other in the early 1900's. The story is based on actual events surrounding the destruction of Malaga Island in 1912, and if you live close enough to visit, the trip will give kids an even stronger sense of what Turner and Lizzie were up against. Besides historical value, the book has personal value to your kids, too. Many kids struggle when they reach that fine line between still being a kid, and being ready to grow up, and this book is an example of how one boy walks that line. When asked what Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy was all about, the author said:

"It's what I always write about: what it is that makes a child move from childhood to adulthood. It's when a child starts to say, 'This is my decision. I make this call.' It s the message a child has to get - that there's a moment when you have to become your own person."
- from interview
For the Kids:
Have you ever been "the new kid?" Well, that is precisely Turner Ernest Buckminster III's situation. He feels like he can't do anything right, and that people are always watching him, and that he just wants to go back to Boston where everything was good. Soon he meets Lizzie, and they become friends, and things start to get a little better. But Turner is white, and Lizzie is black. Back in 1912, people didn't like that too much. First Turner and Lizzie are forced to stay apart, and then they discover that the island Lizzie lives on is about to be destroyed. When they try to save the people living there, both of their lives are changed forever. What happens? How does it all turn out? Go pick up the book, and see for yourself...

For Everyone Else:
This is a story not to be missed, no matter how far away you are from being a kid. It's historical fiction from inside the heads of a 13-year-old boy and girl, complete with all the flurry of emotions that come with kids that age. If you've never heard of Malaga Island, or Phippsburg, Maine, this is an interesting, if haunting, introduction. Soon after reading this book, you may find yourself researching the places you've read about, and maybe even visiting those places. And learning is always a good matter how old you are.

Wrapping Up:
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy is a not-to-be-missed novel, sure to become a classic. Find your copy soon...

Title: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Pages: 224
Reading Level: Ages 10+
Publisher and Date: Clarion Books, May 2004
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $15.00
ISBN-10: 0618439293
ISBN-13: 978-0618439294


  1. This was one of the best books I've ever read. I was drawn in from the beginning. There were funny parts, and sad ones too. I really got close to Lizzie and Turner, and the story was mysterious and very touching.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Anonymous,

      I'm sorry you didn't like the book. And you are certainly free to make your displeasure known. I welcome honest comments here at Bugs and Bunnies. But if you want your comment to remain posted, you'll need to use appropriate language to do so.


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