“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one”
-- John Lennon
“‘Thompkins Well?’ Ernest said. ‘We’re inside Thompkins Well?’
‘Yeah, I think so.’ Ryan picked up one of the coins. ‘Explains all the change. Some of these are pretty old.’
‘Hello?’ A voice echoed around them; it seemed to come from the well itself,
Ryan and Ernest froze,
‘Ryan…” Ernest whispered, but his voice quivering urgently. ‘The well is haunted.’
‘No, it’s not,’ Ryan said with less certainty than he’d hoped to muster.
‘Um, this is Winston,’ the voice echoed again.
Ernest whimpered. “Ryan, the ghost is named Winston.’
‘Ernest, shut up,’ Ryan snapped.
The mystery voice kept talking. Apparently it couldn’t hear them.
‘This is silly, I know. But I heard your story in school today, about how you granted a wish to an old man named Thompkins and saved his baby grandson from dying.’
It was starting to make sense to Ryan now. ‘That’s Winston Patil, ‘ he whispered.
‘From school?’ Ernest looked confused.
‘Oh, sorry,’ Winston said from above. ‘Almost forgot.’ A quarter dropped down from above, smacking Ernest on the head. Ernest looked up the shaft, catching on.
‘So, as you probably know, I’d like to make a wish, too. It’s not as big as the Ezekiel Thompkins wish. It’s not life or death or anything. I’m new here and, well, it’s kind of hard to fit in. I’m not asking to be popular or anything but maybe...someone my age to talk to would be nice. I just...I’d like a friend.’
Ryan felt awkward hearing Winston’s wish. He knew it was an accident, but still, this was something private, and Ryan felt dirty for listening to it.
‘Anyway, thanks for listening,’ Winston said after a long absence.
‘Wow,’ Ernest said after Winston had walked away.
Ryan said, ‘Let’s get out of here.’
‘I never realized Winston felt that way,’ said Ernest as they inched back through the tunnel.
‘Seriously?’ Ryan scoffed. ‘Kid buries his head in his sketchbook every day at lunch. Never talks to anyone, barely looks up.’
Ryan started leading them up the trail.
‘I know,’ said Ernest. But at least now we can do something about it.’
‘Do? What are we going to do?’
‘Well, we can...you know. Befriend him.’
‘Yeah, become his friend.’
Ryan shook his head. ‘It doesn’t work like that.’
‘Yeah? How? We just go up to him and say, ‘Hi, Winston, let’s be friends?’
Ernest started to answer, but Ryan plowed ahead. ‘And what’s this “we” you keep talking about? I mean, we aren’t even friends.’
‘You don’t,’ Ryan started, then stopped. How did you even go about explaining the world to someone like Ernest? ‘What happens if you discover you don’t like him? Or if he doesn’t like you?’
‘Doesn’t mean we--I-- shouldn’t try.’”
In the parlance of the publishing industry, I’m a “big mouth.” I’ve got a passion for sharing my opinions about great new books I’ve read. I love getting these books into the hands of young people by way of my connections with teachers, librarians, parents, and booksellers. I enjoy that many of the books I talk about go on to win awards or sell lots of copies, or both.
Every once in awhile, I come across a book that is different, one that is custom made for my own inner geeky child. I was once the odd duck, the fifth grade boy who wasn’t into roughhousing and showing off. I was the well-behaved, firstborn child who read circles around everyone else and was moved by stories that spoke to the lack of kindness and the lack of fairness that I perceived both in my own world and out in The World.
I felt sad last night when I reluctantly reached the last page of A DROP OF HOPE. Books that engage my inner geeky child don’t often come along. Although I’ll surely reread this story, experiencing its many surprises for the first time was a uniquely delightful experience.
Filled with surprises--some would say miracles--A DROP OF HOPE takes place in the Midwest, in a town named Cliffs Donnelly. Like so many real towns in the Midwest, the town has suffered from globalization. The story is told from the perspectives of numerous characters, mostly sixth graders. At the outset, it can be challenging to keep them straight, but they are all well-drawn characters and I quickly sorted them out.
Occasionally, I’d have to look back to check someone’s identity. Sometimes that was the result of the author inserting a new character we hadn’t yet met, as if we should know them, and then hitting us with a surprise connection.
Some impatient readers won’t be thrilled by this. But my geeky inner child was delighted with the way that the story comes together with the smoothness and flourish of a perfectly aligned and balanced Rube Goldberg machine.
At the center of the story are three sixth grade classmates: Ethan Wilmette, Ryan Hardy, and Lizzy MacComber. Ethan is a dreamer and a boy of very small stature. His father is the third-generation owner of Wilmette Stamping, Tool & Die, the community’s old, struggling, manufacturing plant. Ryan is the son of an upper-level employee at the plant. Ryan’s dad has been spending way too much time watching angry talking heads on TV who point fingers at Those People and Those Countries who are supposedly responsible for the economic struggles of towns like Cliffs Donnelly. Lizzy is the brilliant Hermione to Ethan and Ryan. Her father has abandoned her and her mom, leaving Lizzy to be frequently watched after school--and victimized--by her nasty aunt and girl cousin.
Also at the center of the story is Thompkins Well, where, legend has it, a miracle took place generations ago.
After Ethan and Ryan discover a hidden tunnel in the town park and unwittingly find themselves at the bottom of Thompkins Well, and after Ethan decides to embark on making wishers’ wishes come true, the trio of sixth graders repeatedly discover that Ethan’s efforts somehow do contribute to dreams coming true, even though it’s never in the manner one would anticipate.
This book is constructed with such great storytelling and so much heart! In this town, where families have lived for generations, several old people are the key to all sorts of surprise connections. And there’s a good measure of humor. It’s hard to be cynical about the existence of magic and miracles in the face of the snowballing good will and wishes coming true.
But it’s not all one happytown. A memorable character, beyond the core trio, is Tommy Bricks, a sixth grade bully who first comes to our attention when he’s tormenting Winston at recess. Thanks to the multi-narrator storytelling structure, we also get to see Tommy’s side of things. The book will help readers see how exposure to multiple perspectives--walking a mile in someone’s shoes--changes our understanding and ability to empathize.
Other children’s books published in 2019 may go on to win more awards and sell more copies than A DROP OF HOPE. But it’s going to take something special to touch my heart the way this one did. My wish is that we get to read a lot more stories from talented first-time novelist Keith Calabrese.
320 pages 978-1-338-23320-9 Ages 8-12
Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA
See more of Richie's Picks: http://richiespicks.pbworks.
"A book that reminds us of the kindness we are all capable of." -- Gary D. Schmidt, Newbery Honor winner and author of Okay For Now
A well. A wish. And a little drop of hope.
Times are tough. Jobs are scarce and miracles are in short supply. But something strange is happening in If Only, Ohio. An old well has suddenly, impossibly, begun to grant wishes. And three sixth graders are the only ones who know why.
Ernest Wilmette believes a good deed makes magic happen. Ryan Hardy thinks they should just mind their own business. Lizzy MacComber believes in facts, not fairy tales. Of course, you don't have to believe in wishes to make one.
As more wishes are made, the well's true secret gets harder and harder to keep. Ernest, Ryan, and Lizzy know they can't fix the world. But in their own little corner of it, they can give everyone a little hope... one wish at a time.--from the publisher