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From the critics
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You know one thing that Mr. Powell taught me? He taught me that sometimes, art can make you forget everything else all around you. That’s what art can do. And I guess that’s what happened to Mr. Barber, who forgot that his left foot was behind the back leg of my chair. Who took a step without remembering to take his foot away from the back of my chair. Who tripped, but caught himself. But who couldn’t the coffee that flew out of his cup, swirled around in the air for a second, and finally splashed down all over my Geography: The Story of the World and started to soak into the pages as fast as it could.
I won’t tell you the sound that Mr. Barber made. It was something like the shriek
an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years would make. (p. 344)
Here’s how you practice shrieking like an insane woman who has been locked in an attic for a great many years:
You stand in the middle of the field.
You look around to be sure that no one is going to hear you.
You breathe in a couple of times to get as much air in your chest as you can.
You stretch your neck up like the Great Esquimaux Curlew.
You imagine that it’s Game Seven of the World Series and it’s the bottom of the ninth and Joe Pepitone is rounding third base and the throw is coming in and the catcher has his glove up waiting for the ball and Joe Pepitone is probably going to be out and the game will be over and the Yankees will lose.
Then you let out your shriek, because that’s how everyone in Yankee Stadium
would be shrieking right then.
That’s how you practice shrieking like an insane woman who has been locked in
an attic for a great many years. And you keep doing it over and over again until all the birds in Marysville have flown away. (p. 303 - 304)
She [Lil] smiled and opened up one of the books on New Zealand. You know how pretty someone can be when she opens up a book? (p. 276)
Mrs. Windermere nodded then turned quickly to her typewriter and began smacking at the keys. Her hands flew high. Petrels in the wind. (p. 250)
Mrs. Daugherty was keeping my bowl of cream of wheat hot, and she had a special treat with it, she said. It was bananas.
In the whole story of the world, bananas have never once been a special treat. (p. 249)
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“You’re not always going to get everything you want, you know. That’s not what life is like.” It’s not like the librarian Mrs. Merriam needs to tell Doug that. If any kid is aware that life is not a bed of roses, it’s Doug. Stuck in a family with a dad that prefers talking with his fists to his mouth, a sweet but put upon mom, a brother in Vietnam, and another one at home making his little brother’s life a misery, it’s not like Doug’s ever had all that much that’s good in his life. When he and his family move to Marysville, New York (herein usually referred to as “stupid Marysville”) things start to change a little. Doug notices the amazing paintings of birds in an Audubon book on display in the public library. The boy is captivated by the birds, but soon it becomes clear that to raise money, the town has been selling off different pages in the book to collectors. Between wanting to preserve the book, learning to draw, solving some problems at school, the return of his brother from Vietnam, and maybe even falling in love, Doug’s life in “stupid” Marysville takes a turn. Whether it’s a turn for the better or a turn for the worse is up to him.
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