Summer Reading: Navigating Early

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Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. Historical Fiction.

After his mother’s death, Jack Baker’s move from Kansas to a boarding school in Maine causes him to feel like a fish out of water.  His relationship with his father is distant both physically and emotionally and when his father has to postpone his visit, Jack finds himself on an adventure with an eccentric classmate who is on a quest to find Pi.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, Pi, Boarding schools, Polaris, death, Ursa Major, bears, navigation, math, rowing (crew), fathers and sons, WWII, Appalachian Trail, Maine, Billie Holiday, synonyms, similes, National Geographic Magazine, military, adventure, first person narratives, synesthesia, autism, quests

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up, students and adults, students who like math, students who like historical fiction, students who like adventure, discussing constellations or stars, discussion of Pi (as well as pie,) discussion of simile, read aloud, character study

My Two Cents: Clearly this has been the summer for reading some outstanding books, because Navigating Early is certainly another winner.  I love it when an author combines such a unique storyline with such powerful characters.  There are two story threads that entwine around each other.  The first is the story of the friendship between Jack and Early.  The second is the story of Pi, interpreted by Early who sees the story in the infinite decimals places of Pi.  Pi’s story is paralleled in the quest that Jack and Early make as they navigate their way along the Appalachian Trail.

Vanderpool’s story is creative and smart and her characters are completely captivating. I laughed out loud at Jack’s sarcastic and slightly self-deprecating sense of humor.  Early is outwardly confusing  and eccentric, but as the story progresses we realize that internally, he has a much tighter grasp on reality than he communicates.  (My opinion is that Early has a type of synesthesia although Vanderpool, in her author’s note, is not quite so specific.)  Given his determination and quirkiness, Early reminds me of Owen Meany (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.)

There are a multitude of curricular tie-ins with this book and it would make an outstanding read aloud. I’m grateful that Vanderpool included “Pi: Fact or Fiction” in her author’s note.  (If she hadn’t, rather than completing this book review right now, I’d be trying to calculate the digits of Pi.)

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Buchan, Jamie. Easy as pi : the countless ways we use numbers every day. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 2009. Print.
  • Dowd, Siobhan. The London Eye mystery. Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2008. Print.
  • Mass, Wendy. A mango-shaped space : a novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2005. Print.
  • McCallum, Ann. Eat your math homework : recipes for hungry minds. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2011. Print.
  • Neuschwander, Cindy. Sir Cumference and the dragon of pi : a math adventure. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 1999. Print.

Favorite Quote: (It was hard to pick just one.) “Connecting the dots. That’s what Mom said stargazing is all about.  It’s the same up there as it is down here, Jackie. You have to look for the things that connect us all.  Find the ways our paths cross, our lives intersect, and our hearts collide.” (Vanderpool, Clare. Navigating Early. New York: Delacorte Press, 2013. 291. Print.)

Final Word(s): A unique and amazing read!  Love it! 😀

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