by Bruce Brooks. (HarperCollins, 1990. ISBN 0060207280. Order Info.) Novel. 70 pages. Grades 4-8.
This is a deceptively simple novel, both in appearance and in content: there are only seventy pages and the reading is not complicated. Children down as low as third grade can probably understand the story line. However, the novel has great depths and great power to move and, perhaps, change the reader. Certainly he or she will be haunted by it for quite some time.
The action takes place during one trauma-filled day. Peanuts' beloved grandfather has suffered a heart attack; the doctor has come and gone and Lucy Pettibone has been summoned as she often is when death is near. Peanuts, a boy of ten, is smart enough but gullible and, of course, in great torment over the prospect of losing his grandfather.
Lucy Pettibone, a black lady who mysteriously became a nurse over the course of one summer, has brought her nephew Dooley to keep Peanuts company while the adults in the family are coping with Grandfather. Thank goodness for Dooley, for he has a plan to save the old man by a process he has learned from comic books called "The Soul Switch." He assures Peanuts that Indians always use it when a brave gets shot.
The story is narrated by Peanuts in a very believable manner and we become drawn into the fascinating and horrible rite in which a turtle is to be killed and his soul traded off for Grandfather's. We're as repulsed and torn as Peanuts is as the day draws to its climax and just as relieved when Grandfather and Peanuts, upon the former's recovery, find that the turtle's life was never really in jeopardy.
Whatever you do, don't trivialize the book, or weigh it down with extension activities that don't help anyone's understanding, but are only busy work. It's a very special book and should be treated as such.
Things to Talk About and Notice
- First of all, what happened? The action is so subtle and there is much that is implied here so that some children will need to decide what was really going on. Stay within the book for a while and talk about the things we know about Grandfather; although we don't see him directly until the very last pages of the book, he is a very strong character throughout the action and, after all, he's the cause of it all.
- Go over the scene where Peanuts is choosing the tie to get some of the feeling he has for his grandfather out of the tactile and visual memories he experiences there. What do those memories tell you about Grandfather? When the boys are in Grandfather's workshop, the author gives us a feeling for the place by the details he points out. What are they and what do they tell you about Grandfather?
- The contrast between Dooley and Peanuts go far beyond their respective races. What are Dooley's motives in all this? Is he just a con man or a very good psychologist attempting to distract a younger boy from his grief and worry? Does he believe in the soul switch? At the beginning of the story Dooley shows signs that he expects to be rejected by Peanuts. What are these signs? What does it tell you about both boys that the rejection didn't come? Might Peanuts have rejected Dooley because of race if he were not so preoccupied with his grandfather?
- What about Lucy and her pretense of being a nurse? Is it harmful? What do her qualifications, suspect though they are, enable her to do?
- Step back from the book a little and look at the title and decide why the author chose it for this story. On page 47, Peanuts confronts himself in the mirror and comes to a realization about his being everywhere at once. Is that the meaning?
- Although no exact date is given for the action in the book, we are given many clues as to the time of the action. There are radio antennas in use; Bob Turley is pitching for the Yankees, black people must use the back door but it is five years since they have been admitted to the University. There is some speech which is slightly dated: Peanuts "favors his grandfather," for instance. The furniture includes a chiffon robe and an ottoman. Can you find a probable year for the setting?
- You might want to relate the book to personal experience along about now. Everybody has been touched by the death of someone or something near and dear to him or herself. Some may want to talk about it and their feelings of being powerless. Did Dooley help Peanuts feel less powerless? What does your culture or religion do to help people cope with death?
- Much is made in the story of grandfather's bow ties. These are not ready-tied but real ties. Have you ever seen one? Can you tie one?
- Superstition and the rites and beliefs of childhood are bound to come up for discussion after reading this book. Listing the things children "used to believe" is a good start. Some are surely as unlikely as Dooley's soul switching.
- Grandfather is said to resemble the turtle. Do people look like animals? Look at pictures of famous people and see if you can make matches between them and animals.
- The secret place where Peanuts never took Grandfather until the last scene may remind readers of The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (Harper, 1977 ISBN 0-690-01359-0,) a book which also has death as a central theme.
- The discrimination against blacks can lead you to such treasures as Nettie's Trip South by Ann Turner (Macmillan, 1987 ISBN 0-02-789240-9,) a story set in approximately the same time as Everywhere.
- There are also many books by Mildred Taylor with a similar theme.
- Ouida Sebestyen's masterpiece Words by Heart (Little, 1979 ISBN 0-316-77931-8.)
Related Areas Within Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web Site
- US History. Links to articles, activities, fiction and nonfiction titles.
- Martin Luther King Day. Links to related resources.
- Heartlight by T.A. Barron. Fantasy dealing with the death of the grandfather with a lot about the meaning of life and death. Featured Book with related activities, books and links.