Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2007. Reaching for Sun. New York: Bloomsburg U.S.A. Children's Books. ISBN 1599900378.
B. Plot Summary
Reaching for Sun tells the story of seventh grader Josie who has cerebral palsy. Written in first person free-verse poems, Josie gives the reader a year-long glimpse into her life as a 12-year-old with a disability and how difficult life can be with students at school who ignore her, a demanding mother, a do-it-all grandmother, and finally a true, close friend who doesn't see Josie's disabilities at all.
C. Critical Analysis
Reaching for Sun chose to not dwell on Josie's disabilities. How her cerebral palsy affects her physically is mentioned very little "with my odd walk and slow speech..." "the new occupational therapist" "But my thumb will always be pasted to my palm, and my left wrist and shoulder connected by an invisible rubber band called cerebral palsy".
Once the physical limitations are mentioned, Reaching for Sun focuses on Josie's feelings letting the reader know how it feels to be ridiculed or ignored by other "perfect" students as they do on Christmas Eve, "Kids from school who usually pretend I'm invisible wish me Merry Christmas and say hello in front of their parents".
A hint to the emotional family angst a disability can cause was mentioned to explain why the near 1,000 acres of her grandmother's farm had been reduced to 5 acres: "...my medical bills stacked up on the dining room table, Gran resigned herself to sell it to her friend..." Gran herself makes only one comment to the loss of the acreage, "My momma would understand what I had to do, but I'll have to answer to Daddy one day."
True friendship finally comes to Josie with a boy named Jordan, who, in his own way, has handicaps of his own with a mother who died when he was young and a father who copes with her death by being a workaholic. However, Josie says "...I've learned this fact for myself: Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend."
Reaching for Sun will provide for much discussion on how students with disabilities feel and how student who are not in special ed classes should treat them. The novel would lend itself well to a class read aloud with students responding with journaling to each daily read.
D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal—Josie, a girl with cerebral palsy, lives on the shrinking farmland owned by her family for generations and now being sold to developers. Her mother works and attends college and her grandmother tends her diminished patch of land. The story is told in the seventh-grader's voice in a series of free-verse poems. She is a bright and wry narrator, acutely aware of her limitations and her strengths. When Jordan, wealthy but neglected by his widowed father, moves into a mansion behind her farmhouse, they discover a common love of nature and science, and Josie finally has a real friend. She and her grandmother are both passionate about plants and gardening, and Zimmer does a nice job integrating botanical images throughout the novel. Josie feels like a "dandelion in a purple petunia patch" and thinks, "I must be a real disappointment—/stunted foliage,/no yield." Through growing maturity and Granny's wisdom, she gains confidence in herself. Reaching for Sun will have wide appeal for readers of diverse ability. Reluctant readers will be attracted to the seeming simplicity of the text, with short chapters and lots of white space on the page. They may not even realize that they are reading poetry. More sophisticated readers will find added enjoyment as they begin to appreciate the poetic structure and imagery. Readers of all levels will enjoy spending time with Josie and may gain an increased awareness of what it's like to live with a disability.
Booklist As if seventh grade weren't enough of a challenge for anyone, Josie also struggles with cerebral palsy, social isolation, a mom she needs more time and support from, and monster bulldozers that are carving up the countryside to build huge homes around her family's old farmhouse. Enter new neighbor Jordan, a sensitive kid whose geeky, science-loving ways bring a fun spirit of discovery into Josie's days. He melds with her and her family, especially the warm and wise Gram, and the friends create a kind of magic as they conduct all kinds of plant and pond experiments. Further challenges face Josie when Gram becomes ill and Jordan goes off to camp. Then, risking her mom's wrath, Josie secretly ditches her hated therapy sessions; when mother and daughter eventually reconcile, Josie emerges from her rough patch in a believable and transforming way. Written in verse, this quick-reading, appealing story will capture readers' hearts with its winsome heroine and affecting situations.
Encourage students to conduct research into disabilities like cerebral palsy.
Research the American Disability Act.
Invite the school's special ed teacher to come to the classroom to describe teaching students with disabilities and how to accommodate for them.