Friday, December 02, 2022

Farewell Friday

I was not aware that Betsy Byars had died right before the pandemic. She was a prolific author and I remember reading her books when I was in middle school. I probably read this book in 2002, when I started working at my school; it would only have been 25 years old at that point. I've been doing a deep dive into weeding, and realizing that things I read 20 years ago should probably go. I shouldn't be so emotionally attached to so many titles. 

Byars, Betsy. The Pinballs
April 5, 1977 by HarperCollins
Library copy

Harvey is in foster care because his father is an alcoholic and ran him over with the car when he pushed his son out because the father wanted to go to the Elks Club to play poker instead of taking Harvey to an awards banquet. Carlie has an abusive step father, and Thomas J was abandoned at a farm when he was a baby, and the elderly twins who found him never turned him over to the authorities. When they both break a hip, he ends up in care. All three are with Mrs. Mason, who is very patient and has had many foster children. Harvey, 13, is understandably depresssed and dealing with his physical limitations, while Thomas J misses his "aunts" and is trying to get used to a new life. Carlie wants to watch television and is fairly rude to everyone. The three have to deal with their own issues and learn to get along with each other.
Strengths: For 1977, this was a great title about children who might not have traditional nuclear families, and the children are portrayed sympathetically. Carlie is the kind of smart mouthed, rather rude character that was considered innovative at the time. There was an Afterschool Special film of this that was very true to the book, starring a young Kristy McNichol. (
Weaknesses: There are so many dated references that this is hard to read. Sonny and Cher? Television programs at certain times? You go to the library to check out magazines? Like everything else, foster care has changed, and it seems unfair to give modern readers such a dated view of an experience they should try to understand if they are not part of. Granted, there are not a lot of books about foster care, which is why I think this one has persisted. Byars (who died in February of 2020) was also a much beloved and prolific author, and there are a lot of fond memories of her work.
What I really think: The copy I have is not in great shape, and having good memories of the Afterschool Special or of a letter I received from Byars is not enough reason to keep this title around.

Byars, Betsy. The Computer Nut
1984, Viking Kestrel
Library copy

I can't. I just can't. Kate is working on the computer in her father's office, drawing a picture of herself, when she gets a message. She has to go home, so can't get it until the next day. It turns out to be a space alien who wants to make contact, and tries to arrange to meet Kate and her friends. No! Kate! I don't know how you managed to get online (Prodigy? A university server?), but someone claiming to be alien? Clearly, predator. Run. Tell a trusted adult. Also, since the alien is CONSTANTLY TYPING IN ALL CAPS, it's clearly angry. 

To be clear: It is a space alien who contacts Kate, and not a creepy predator. But reading this through a 2022 lens creeped me out. 

I am embarassed that I kept this even for a unit on historical fiction.

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