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As a former foster child, my passion is advocating for and with foster care youth, publicizing the challenges that they face and addressing their developmental and emotional needs through workshops.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two Foster Books From the 80's

Sometimes it's hard to top certain books! Two juvenile fiction books published in the 1980's on the subject of foster care were written exceptionally well...

Pinballs by Betsy Byers
The book begins, "One summer, two boys and a girl went to a foster home to live together." Thomas J was abandoned as a child and raised by two elderly women whose failing health makes it difficult for them to shelter him anymore. Harvey's drunken father ran over him with the car and broke both of his son's legs. Carlie's stepfather is abusive.

And so, the three of them take up residence together in the Mason's household. The children are initially suspicious of one another at first. Thomas J is accustomed to yelling in order to be heard by his eldery caretakers. Harvey is an introvert. Ultimately, it is Carly whose tough and tender response to life ends up bringing the trio closer together.

The book is simply written, and accessible to readers between eight and eleven years old. The dialogue is realistic and often funny. The foster parents are neither stereotyped as saints or sinners, but shown to be adults with good intentions toward the children they care for in their home.

Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Gilly is an eleven year old girl who has been in the foster care system all her life. Her experiences have been disillusioning, and she demonstrates an understandable amount of cynicism about her latest foster care placement with the Trotters.

What Gilly desires most is to be reunited with her biological mother. She has built up a fantasy about how wonderful living with her beautiful, absent mother would be...

Gilly's efforts to reunite with her mother threaten her relationship with the Trotters, a family that on the surface seems strange, but who might prove to be the most loving, healthy foster placement that Gilly has ever experienced.

The primary strength in this book is characterization. All of the characters ring true to life, especially Gilly. Her suspicion and defense mechanisms make perfect sense. Her reactions are often humorous. Ultimately, Gilly is endearing, despite her thorns and thistles, and the reader hopes that she will give the Trotters a chance and not sabotage her chances.

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