Monday, January 25, 2010

Peace, Locomotion

Peace, Locomotion

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
Recommended Ages: 9-12

This middle grade book is what I would term a "quiet" book. It's not a fast-paced, plot-driven story, but rather a story that gently unfolds as you turn each page. I think it will appeal to readers who don't mind a slower-paced character-driven book. Because of its epistolary format (with short chapters), it's not a difficult read, and may very well appeal to more reluctant readers. I enjoyed it very much, and have found that it has stayed with me long after I finished the book.

Peace, Locomotion is told in a series of letters that are written by twelve-year-old Lonnie (Locomotion to his friends) to his little sister Lili. We learn that they are living in different foster homes, although we don't immediately know why. From the first chapter, Lonnie's voice comes through loud and clear. You can't help but like this young boy, who is sensitive, artistic and has experienced some incredible losses in his young life. He lives with Miss Edna and her two sons, although one of them--Jenkins--is over fighting in an unnamed war. Miss Edna is kind and loving to Lonnie, and we watch over the course of 134 pages as his definition of family changes to be inclusive of her, as well as Lili and her foster family.

Not a lot happens in Peace, Locomotion and yet Lonnie experiences tremendous growth. He has a best friend Clyde, and their friendship is typical twelve-year-old boy stuff, and much more. On the one hand they play basketball and soccer, while on the other we learn that Clyde and his sister live with his aunt, and that his mom just drops in every now and then. Once again, pushing the definition of family to the edge.

When we learn that Jenkins has gone missing from the war, the fear and worry are palpable in the house. Lonnie starts to grapple with the idea of war and peace, and all that entails. When Jenkins is eventually found, he is injured. The story depicts his re-entry into the household, shell-shocked and in a wheel chair. Woodson doesn't shy away from anything, and the story is told in spare, beautiful prose, that is absolutely appropriate for the middle grade reader. She's a wonderful writer who manages to say a lot, without a lot of words. It's an art.

Peace, Locomotion is a sequel to the book Locomotion which dealt with Lonnie and Lili in the aftermath of a tragic fire that killed their parents. While I haven't read it, I certainly intend to. Instead of letters, Lonnie, who is a gifted writer, writes it in a series of poems. Peace, Locomotion has two of his poems about peace in the endnotes. Here's one of them which, I hope, will give you an idea of the voice and beauty of the book:

"Imagine Peace

I think it's blue because that's my favorite color.
I think it's soft like flannel sheets in the
I think Peace is full-
like a stomach after a real good dinner-
beef stew and corn bread or
shrimp fried rice and egg rolls.
Even better
Than some barbecue chicken.
I think Peace is pretty--like my sister Lili.
And I think it's nice--like my friend Clyde.
I think if you imagine it, like that
Beatles guy used to sing about?
Then it can happen.
Yeah, I think
Peace Can Happen"

BookNosher Tidbit: Peace, Locomotion was an Odyssey Honor Book for 2009. This annual award is given to the producer of the best audio book produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States. The selection committee also selects honor titles.


NatalieSap said...

Oh, how I love Jacqueline Woodson's writing. For some reason, though, I haven't read this one. Will have to go pick it up!

By the way, I've given you an award over at my blog. Check it out. :)

Robin Gaphni said...

Thanks Natalie! Much appreciated.