Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jip: His Story - Historical Fiction, a Review

Paterson, Katherine. 1996. JIP: HIS STORY. New York: Lodestar. ISBN 0525675434

Jip fell off the back of a wagon on West Hill Road when he was a toddler, and no one came back looking for him. When he was picked up by a passerby, he ends up at the town poor farm, which becomes his home; the animals, his friends. One day Put arrives at the farm, a lunatic whose rages from his wooden cage terrify everyone. However, as Jip cares for Put, a friendship grows during Put’s long stretches of lucidity. Then Lucy arrives at the farm with her family following the death of her father, and she and Jip begin attending the one-room school house. Jip’s relationships with Put, Lucy, Teacher, and her sweetheart Luke Stevens change Jip’s life. However, a suspicious stranger shows up at the farm asking questions about Jip, and as Jip begins to discover the truth about his past, he finds he must escape if he is to avoid the horrible consequences.

Set in 1855-1856 Vermont, the novel begins immediately with a mystery - who would lose a child and not come back for him? Jip’s story is compelling, and as the truth of his past begins to unfold, the story becomes urgent and breathless. The setting is an integral part of story - first by providing a backdrop of rural America which allows Jip a fairly stable, if sometimes hard, life. Near the end as the plot races toward its climax, the reader finds a thread of pre-Civil War America and the Underground Railroad woven in as well. The plot and setting are realistic, with the plot being the driving force and the setting being the vehicle that carries the story forward.

Jip is not a totally realistic character. He’s definitely older than his 11 years. Charged with taking care of much of the farm, as well as Put when he arrives, Jip handles more than many adults today would be able to cope with. But Jip’s sensitive, caring nature makes him a sympathetic character, one the reader quickly cares and worries about. The universal theme of man’s inhumanity to man sadly encompasses this child who has had to become an adult too quickly. And it is with gratefulness that the reader is able to experience the introduction of Teacher and Luke into young Jip’s life - people who see him as the child he is with all the potential which that entails. Their willingness to put their lives and reputations on the line for him brings tears to the eye. This Scott O’Dell Award Winner does not end “happily ever after,” and the reader will be left with lots of questions about what happens next, but the reader will nevertheless be happy he took the trip through this part of Jip’s story.

*Booklist starred review: “It's not often that the revelations of the plot are so astonishing--and yet so inevitable--that they make you shout and think and shiver and cry. . . . Paterson's simple sentences lay bare the dark historical truth and the transforming light of love.”
*Kirkus starred review: “As usual for Paterson, all the characterizations are penetrating--even the villains are interesting.”
*Horn Book: “The narrative flows effortlessly, and a riveting pace is maintained throughout.”

*This book may be particularly interesting to boys since the protagonist is male. This book could be a real winner for boys who have trouble finding chapter books that they enjoy reading for pleasure.
*This novel would be excellent for analyzing literary elements such as plot, setting, characters, and theme.
*Jip: His Story would make a good read-aloud. Teachers could easily use a Directed Reading-Thinking Activity where students make predictions, beginning with the Prologue, then confirm, adjust, and add to their predictions as the reading proceeds.

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