2011

Okay for Now

By Gary D. Schmidt

Current & Digital Publisher: Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Reading Level: Ages 10 & Up

Video by the students of Carole Mashamesh at Tompkins Square Middle School in the East Village:

Carole Mashamesh writes:

As a middle school English teacher you want to find the kind of books that grab a student’s attention and make them feel. Okay for Now, by Gary D. Schmidt, is just that kind of book. My students felt the same love for this book that I did. Heartbreak, that the main character, Doug, goes through so much adversity to find himself. Questioning of the author’s choices that leave you wondering and thinking about the possibilities, making it a page turner to find out what will happen next. And the answer will always surprise you – that’s the genius of this book.

I love to use it as a book club selection because it gives kids so much to discuss and many teaching points that I can hit to build thinking. There’s symbolism, character development and motivation, empathy for our characters, interesting relationships and so much more. As you can tell from the video of one of my book clubs, they had a lot to talk about. The most important thing though was how my kids connected to this book and cared about Doug like a friend. That’s what made them fall in love and declare that they are now full fledged “readers”.

Carole Mashamesh is a Humanities teacher at Tompkins Square Middle School in the East Village and is dedicated to making her kids love reading.

_____

Dia Calhoun writes:

I am always looking for possibility. Okay for Now is the story of how one boy learns to look for it, too. Doug Swieteck lives a life of turmoil, with a father who doesn’t understand him, a wounded brother, and a coach with a chip on his shoulder big enough to be a tombstone. Doug wants things to change, but he doesn’t know how to make change happen—until he discovers possibility.

Possibility is about listening to what calls us and then responding to it. Possibility is the herald of change. And that’s what it is for Doug the day he sees a painting of an Arctic Tern in Audubon’s Birds of America at the library. The bird’s exquisitely rendered fear and loneliness speak to Doug of his own:

This bird was falling and there wasn’t a single thing in the world that cared at all.
It was the most terrifying picture I had ever seen.
The most beautiful.

Possibility means you can change the story of your life:

“You know, Mr. Powell,” I said the next Saturday. “I don’t think Audubon had this right. I mean about the hunter.”
 “Do you think he’s in the wrong place in the picture?”
 “No. He shouldn’t be in the picture at all.”
 “What would you have put there instead?”
 “Another heron. He’s just seen her, and he’s going to fly over to say hi.”
 “It would be a different story,” said Mr. Powell. “What do you think, Lil?”
She came over and looked at the picture. Then she took my hand.
Do you know what that feels like?
Like what the astronauts will feel when they step onto the moon for the very first time.
Like what might happen if Coach Reed rang the doorbell at The Dump some afternoon and sat down next to Lucas.
Like knowing that Principal Peattie is wrong about what he said.
Like laying a missing bird picture back where it’s supposed to be.
Like someone seeing what a chump you are and getting you a cold coke anyway.
Like Possibility.

Doug changes the story of his life by listening to the call of the Arctic Tern and finding the courage to learn to draw it. By picking up a pencil, he picks up Possibility. Without knowing where it might lead. Without knowing what it might change. I want to be awake enough, brave enough, to live that way. If Doug Swieteck can, maybe I can, too.

Thank you, Gary Schmidt, for writing this beautiful book.

Dia Calhoun has written eight books for children, and received the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature for Aria of the Sea. Her most recent books are middle grade verse novels: Eva of the Farm (Atheneum 2012) and After the River the Sun (Atheneum, July 2013). Calhoun is a co-founder of readergirlz, recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize.

_____

YPL Finalists That Year:

  • Franny Billingsley for Chime
  • Debby Dahl Edwardson for My Name Is Not Easy
  • Albert Marrin for Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
  • Gary D. Schmidt for Okay for Now

YPL Winner That Year: Thanhha Lai for Inside Out & Back Again

Judges That Year: Marc Aronson, Ann Brashares, Matt de la Peña, Nikki Grimes, Will Weaver

The Year in Literature:  Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool won the Newbery Medal. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi won the Printz Award.

More Information: Schmidt won the Newbery Medal twice, in 2005 for Lizzy Bright and the Buckminister Boy and in 2008 for The Wednesday Wars.

Buy  the Book: