August 10, 2015

On My Bookshelf: Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool centers around the adventure of two young boys, both considered outcasts at their boarding school. It is equal parts magic, pirates, and strange coincidences, all of which lead the boys to find things they didn't even know they were looking for. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Basic plot: Jackie is from Kansas, but after his mother passes away suddenly, his father, an officer in the army post-WWII, places him in a boys boarding school in Maine. Jackie, who has never seen the ocean before, is now a fish out of water. He eventually befriends Early, the only boy at school who is more of an outcast than he is. Early doesn't attend classes or agree with his teachers belief that pi does have an end, but he helps Jackie to restore a crew boat and becomes his coxswain. Over fall break, Jackie's father is delayed arriving so Jackie sets off with Early to find the Great Bear, Pi, and Early's brother, considered a casualty of the war by all except for Early. Their adventure, equal parts magic, pirates, and strange coincidences, leads the boys to find things they didn't even know they were looking for.

Why I liked it: Jackie and Early are equally interesting characters. Jackie is a typical hardheaded boy and Early would liked be labeled as having Asperger's in today's world. Despite his quirks, like only listening to Billie Holiday when it's raining, Early is a loyal friend. The plot is anything but predictable, yet everything comes together perfectly in the end. The lives of all of the characters that Jackie and Early meet along their journey are intertwined, and they appear and reappear in unexpected places. While Jackie and Early are "real boys" elements of their adventure are almost fantastical; think Bridge to Terabithia.

Classroom application: The novel is appropriate for grades 4-8 and could be used as a read aloud or in literature circles with the themes of friendship, differences, tolerances, journeys, and coming of age. Part of the novel is a plot line in which the number pi becomes a person with a story explaining its number sequence. As a writing activity, students could chose another math or science concept and create a narrative to explain its meaning or existence.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Navigating Early for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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