Monday, January 16, 2017

MMGM: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

Lizzie bright and the Buckminster Boy.
Have the box of tissues handy.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Written by Gary D. Schmidt
Cover art by Scott Cameron

Yearling Books, 2004
Grades 6–9, 1000L
219 pages, 63600 words

Historical Fiction, Racism, Religious Hypocrisy, Forced Relocation

       Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small houses set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some.
       Turner Buckminster had live in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours.
       He didn't know how much longer he could stand it.

Turner Earnest Buckminster III is the new kid in Phippsburg, Maine, the preacher's son, and a constant embarrassment to his father. No matter how hard he tries, Turner can't avoid trouble. As the object of scrutiny for the whole town, he is always getting caught with his pants down—sometimes literally. Even his innocent moments turn into ignominious disasters. Turner doesn't fit in with the local boys, but then he meets a girl. There is no one quite like Lizzie Bright Griffin. She hails from the neighboring community, Malaga Island, a shantytown of racial outcasts. Their friendship is life-altering. The repercussions, community-altering. But this is no fairy tale. The events are harsh and often unfair, in hopes that we will look back with disgust and look forward with determination.

I have a love/hate relationship with this book. Some passages are "sensitively written."* Some are biased and ignorant. But one thing the author does well. That man can write. He can make us root for his characters. He can make us feel the pangs of injustice. He can rip out our hearts and stomp on them. Without this book, I would never have heard of the tragic events surrounding Malaga Island. The racial questions brought up in this book may be the very thing to open someone's eyes to the absurd illogic of racial bigotry. For those reasons, I've decided to review it for MMGM and to feature it during today's celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

I highly doubt Dr. King would approve of Mr. Schmidt's conclusions that evolutionary thought will bring an end to racism or science is the force which enlightens us to a higher moral standard. He spoke instead about the moral breakdown caused by elevating science to the standard of truth rather than a means of obtaining the truth. He was not opposed to scientific study, but he knew it was man's heart which must change if he was to change his attitudes and behaviors. Where the "good" characters in the book forsake religious beliefs as they mature, Dr. King believed spiritual maturity was a key to eliminating social prejudices. Dr. King taught social justice, social reform, civil disobedience, but he never taught tolerance. He rightly believed that tolerance leads to moral ambiguity which leads to isolationism rather than unity, indifference rather than brotherly love.**

So, forgive me, Dr. King. I hope I don't offend.

*from a synopsis on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
**See Martin Luther King's Strength To Love, "A Knock at Midnight", and his Nobel Lecture.

 1. For more books on similar themes, try Color Me Dark, by Patricia McKissack, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, by Christopher Paul Curtis, or Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson.

In some ways, Lizzie Bright reminded me of Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli or Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson.

Though I haven't read them, perhaps Same Sun Here, by Silas House and Neela Vaswani or Lunch-Box Dream, by Tony Abbott, or The Lions of Little Rock, by Kristin Levine would be compatible books.

2. If you are of fan of Gary Schmidt's writing, check out the reviews for some of his other books by fellow MMGM participants.

What Came From the Stars
 Faith on Life's an Art!
Joanne from My Brain on Books

The Wednesday Wars
Violet of Reading Violet
Michael on Middle Grade Mafioso
Gary on Always in the Middle...

Okay For Now
Pam on So I'm Fifty
Greg of Always in the Middle...
Barbara of Reading and Writing and Other Things

3. Random House offers an educator's guide to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Find more about the deplorable disappearance of the inhabitants of  Malaga Island. I couldn't get the audio clips to play, but the site includes links to dozens of additional resources.

Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for January 16, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. This book sounds interesting! I love books about overcoming racism. Thanks for the review!

    1. I like the subtle way their friendship grows. Let me know what you think.

  2. Perfect selection for MLK day. I remember reading this one out loud in my classroom. I'm going to look for it again. Thanks for the review.

    1. Thanks. I hope you can find it soon. I heard there is also an elementary age play which can be performed. Maybe that would be interesting for the kids too.

  3. As a writer, I loved this book for the sheer poetry and power of the writing. And I also learned for the first time about Malaga Island and the shameful way the people were treated. I'm featuring a book for MLK day today, too.

    (P.S. I also reviewed What Came From the Stars in 2012:

    1. I meant to add Stella by Starlight to the post. Perfect timing. Thanks for the link.

  4. Wow! What a great opening. Especially the last line. You are right, the author is an excellent writer. Interesting you had a love/hate relationship with the book. Now, I'm going to have to read it to see why and find out about Malaga Island. (I didn't have a MG book worthy of MLK day, so I chose a PB.)

    1. I really fell in love with the writing and the characters and the way the author spotlighted a problem, but while he was able to write fresh main characters, I was disappointed by the stereotypes he used for some of his secondary characters.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!