Incidentally, it is my birthday. No, I am not writing reviews on my birthday. I am a great review scheduler. At this exact moment, I am probably asleep. Or at the zoo looking at tigers and the octopus.
Like many of Patricia Polacco's stories, this deeply emotional and intense story is drawn from her own experiences as a child. In the story, a girl named Trisha decides to stay with her father and grandmother instead of returning to her mother in California. She wants this because she hopes to be in a "normal" class at school and finally have friends. Unfortunately, she immediately finds herself in "the junkyard" and completely deserted by her summer friends. In this class are all the kids who don't fit in; they have learning disabilities, physical illnesses, and other problems. Scorned and bullied by the other students and ignored by the rest of the school, Trisha and her classmates nevertheless blossom under the determined love and care of Mrs. Peterson. They become friends and start having hope that they are, as Mrs. Peterson claims, geniuses. They even visit and junkyard and get a wonderful idea; to reclaim a broken model airplane and make it "bigger and better." But then things go wrong. Jody, the boy who protected them from bullies, dies. One of the bullies tells the principal about their plans to fly the reconstructed plane in Jody's honor and the flight is cancelled. But Mrs. Peterson always has a plan...
In the author's note at the end of the story, Patricia Polacco tells us how her friends in the "junkyard" became amazing, successful people - Junkyard Wonders.
The length and plot of this story are not going to appeal to younger children. The youngest age I would hand this to would be a mature 1st grader. This story is best suited for older elementary ages up through middle school, as well as for teachers. Although some people are going to want to try to use this as a deterrent for would-be bullies, I don't think it will make much difference there. Children who lack empathy and compassion are rarely changed by a story, not matter how much emotional punch it packs. They simply won't draw a connection between the "weird kid" they tease in the hallways and Trisha and her friends. This story is for the kids who think they don't matter. For the ones who are told they're useless and damaged. For the kids who get left out and overlooked. It gives them hope that they do have potential, that they can overcome difficulties and realize their dreams. That they too can become Junkyard Wonders.
Verdict: Recommended, if you happen to have a juvenile picturebook section, this would be a good place to put this book.
ISBN: 9780399250781; Published July 2010 by Philomel; Borrowed from the library.