Orbiting Jupiter – Gary Schmidt

A couple of years ago, I read aloud The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt and it instantly was heralded as a family favorite. It is has been re-read quite a few times by various children in the house. I try to keep up with our favorite authors so that we don’t miss any new reads. Somehow I was completely unaware that Mr. Schmidt had a new book, Orbiting Jupiter. (Huge thanks to Sherry at Semicolon!) I quickly added it to my library requests and was surprised to have it in hand just a few days later.

The story is told from the perspective of Jack Hurd (12). Jack lives with his parents on a dairy farm in Maine. His parents are considering fostering a teenage boy (14), Joseph, and they include Jack in on making the final decision.

While Jack has loving parents and a safe, secure home, Joseph’s life doesn’t paint as lovely a picture. Juvenile detention, attacking a teacher, and being a father are all parts of Joseph’s story. Yes, Joseph is a thirteen year old father of a little girl named Jupiter.

Two boys who could not have been more different form an unexpected relationship that proves to be a strong and faithful bond. Despite how others see and treat Joseph, Jack is a loyal and dedicated friend.  A brother who has Joseph’s back.

This book is a surprisingly quick read. It deals with very real, difficult, and  challenging topics. Orbiting Jupiter is heartbreaking and beautiful and real.  Gary Schmidt handles  this so well by allowing the story to be told through the eyes of Jack, who is younger than Joseph.  This is a powerful book that really makes you think.  We are so quick, so very quick to judge. We should all be like Jack. Looking past that outward appearance and seeing the heart.

I highly recommend Orbiting Jupiter. My seventeen year old has already read it and my other teens will be reading it as well. I am debating if I will let my twelve year old read it now or wait a bit.  I would suggest reading it first for yourself and then deciding if it is right for your middle school child. Again no detailed or graphic content; just a very heavy, mature topic.

Have you read Orbiting Jupiter? What did you think?

Mosquitoland – David Arnold

I will begin this post with a confession: The young adult section of the library and bookstores is not impressive to me. Teenaged soap operas pressed between the pages of book are not the makings of great literature.  Critical? Yes, I am.

However, I am ever the optimist. Continually I am looking over the newest offerings in the Young Adult section in hopes of finding a treasure now and then.  Recently, I grabbed Mosquitoland by David Arnold. The book synopsis gave a hint of potential. I was intrigued.

Mim, 16, is unhappy, troubled, angry. Her father and step-mother have moved her to Mississippi, hundreds of miles away from her mother. When Mim believes that her mother is ill, she grabs a coffee can full of cash, jumps on a Greyhound bus and begins a journey to find her mother. And to find herself.

Along the way Mim befriends an elderly woman, takes a boy with Down Syndrome under her wing, escapes a pedophile, and is able to drive cross country with a 21 year old boy who is ditching college. The story is told from Mim’s perspective and at times through the writing of her letters to someone named Isabel.

I wanted to like Mim and her story. I wanted this to be a story to share with my older children and have meaningful discussion about difficult topics. However, my young adults will not be reading about Mim. We often read about the difficult, hard, ugly aspects of reality. I do not present a sugar coated, cotton candy view of the world to my children. I do have my standards.

The presentation of Mim’s runaway journey is dangerous. In the “real world”, the girl doesn’t outsmart the pedophile, and that 21 year old boy is not a gentleman. In the “real world”, there isn’t some guy sitting on top of a gas station to save you when that crazed kiddo from the woods comes after you. I am not against stories about runaways. But let’s be real about how dangerous Mim’s choices were.

It did not take long to realize that language was going to be an issue. As the story progressed, the vulgarity grew. Page after page of “F” this and “F” that. I, as an adult, do not watch movies with language such as this. I think we can show teenage emotion and angst without making an R-rated book.  As I was reading, my girls and I were discussing what was happening with Mim. We were discussing the language and my oldest daughter said: “You read a book and shut the pages when the story is over. Even though the book has ended, the words you have read stay with you. They are always there, you are always thinking those words.” This, my friends, is so, so wise. You can read about “real life”, about a girl searching for meaning without bombarding the reader with crudeness and cursing.

My older girls have read books that have a bit of language in them and some intense, graphic scenes of real life. There is a balance, a grace in how it is handled. It was realistic to the setting and atmosphere. In Mosquitoland it was completely overdone and almost used as the only means to show Mim’s feelings.

A quick look at Amazon will show high ratings for Mosquitoland. I am, apparently, in the minority.  I am ok with that. I truly wanted  Mim’s story to be powerful and meaningful. It just wasn’t. If you have read Mosquitoland, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Mim and her story.

2015 – 2016 Roll Call for VCA

While we school year round, I do try to acknowledge the beginning of a “new” year. We tend to flow from one book or one level to the next as needed. Living in a world that seems to qualify everything based on age and/or grade, it is always nice to give my children a reminder of their current “grade”.  A convenient bit knowledge when questioned by random strangers at the checkout counter. I must confess, however, that this yearly transition to a new grade gives me the opportunity to torture, um, snap quick photos of my kiddos.  It is one of my favorite past times.

My High School Crew!!!

Rebekah – 11th Grade

Mary – 10th Grade

My Middle School Crew!

Caleb – 8th Grade

Lydia – 7th Grade

My Elementary Superstars!

Hannah – 4th Grade

Sarah – 2nd Grade

Sam – Kindergarten

My Cutie Pie Class!

Martha Ann – Preschool

Ezra – Toddler Tornada

And I can’t leave out the Teacher’s Pet!


When we decided to homeschool so many years ago, I never imagined having a span of kiddos from 16 years to 15 months. So thankful for the unexpected. The days are passing too quickly…