Touch Blue

An urban foster kid adapts to life on a small Maine island in this terrific new middle-grade novel.

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord Scholastic 192 pp., $16.99

When low enrollment threatens to shut down their small island school, the residents of Bethsaida, Maine, come up with a unique solution: take in foster children to bolster class size. Tess’s father’s family has always fished off Bethsaida, and her mother is the only teacher at the two-room school. Without it, families could be forced to move to the mainland.

In other words, without her new foster brother, Tess Brooks’s entire life might change.

From the beginning, when Aaron Spinney arrives on the ferry along with a handful of younger foster children, he wishes he were anywhere else. Until his grandmother’s recent death, she had cared for him. Before that, he’d lived with his mother, whose past drug problems now prevent him from seeing her. The young teen refuses to accept that he requires caring for by a family who, he believes, needs him merely to keep their school open.

Tess is such an authentic character that young readers will understand her often misguided attempts at welcoming this new brother. She shields him from the inescapable island gossip, encourages his musical talent, and tries to make him forget the family he left behind. But talking to Aaron is “like trying to start a campfire with a box of wet matches – it’s near impossible to get anything going.”

Aaron is a brooding city kid who’s never been on a boat, caught a fish, or had a sister. Tess is determined to change that.

In Touch Blue, a terrific new middle-grade novel by Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord, everybody has a lot to learn. As in the best children’s books, the adults offer guidance, but the young characters ultimately figure things out on their own.

Scattered through the story, chapter headings pertaining to the notion of luck – both good and bad – carry the action along and will amuse young readers: “You can reverse bad luck by turning around three times counterclockwise,” “Never count your catch while you’re fishing, or you won’t catch any more that day.” And, perhaps most telling – the superstition that a redhead on the boat is unlucky. (You can guess what color Aaron’s hair is.)

Eventually, Aaron goes out on Tess’s dad’s lobster boat, and learns to make his own luck. Characters like Tess and Aaron fit the quiet, poignant story – they get into kidlike jams with bullies, lose best friends, squabble with younger siblings – and help make “Touch Blue” a truly timeless novel, perfect for sharing.

Augusta Scattergood reads and writes from both Florida and New Jersey.

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