Sunday, January 16, 2011

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Listening to crabs is what got 10-year-old Keeper into a whole lot of trouble. Besides Keeper, only three other people live on Oyster Ridge Road on the Texas seacoast. Signe has looked after Keeper since Keeper's mother left 7 years earlier. Dogie lives in a yellow school bus which is also a surfboard shop. Elderly Mr. Beauchamp sits on his porch, carving driftwood and telling Keeper stories about merfolk from his days as a sailor. After listening to the crabs, who told her that they didn't want to be made into gumbo, all three of the grown-ups in her world are angry with Keeper. The only thing to do is to set to sea in search of her mermaid mother. Will Yemaya, goddess of the sea, answer Keeper's prayers?

The story has a timeless feel; contemporary and yet touched by the magic of fables. It is told in very short chapters and in the rhythms of oral tales. The animal characters (two dogs, a cat and a seagull) are given nearly as much depth and personality as the humans.

I had heard that this book has gay content; it does, but you have to be patient. Henri Beauchamp's backstory is not introduced until more than halfway through the book. When he was 15, he fell in love with another boy in France. Before Henri boarded a ship headed for Texas, Jack gave him a porte-bonheur. This talisman - lost and found - not only brings Henri happiness in his old age, but also is instrumental to the success of Keeper's quest. The theme of chosen family is also important.

For readers in Grade 3 and up. It would work well as a family read-aloud. The nonsense words borrowed from Jabberwocky may inspire a re-reading of Lewis Carroll's poem. Readalike: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, for another spirited girl who loves the natural world and is raised by a woman who is not her biological mother.

No comments: