DOME TAG, ANYONE?

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Hey grown-ups:  remember this thing?

Did your playground have some version of it tucked into a corner? I’m willing to bet it did; this faded, semi-rusted honeycomb of a potential law suit holds a special place in the memories of us 40-somethings.  Many schoolyard problems were solved atop this wobbly contraption, and pow-wows often took place with one of your best friends hanging upside down. And if a kid fell off the climber or scraped his leg on a protruding screw back in 1980, that was his problem, not someone else’s. Kids encountered adversity and then rolled with it.

Lots of things have changed since the Jurassic era when I was growing up, yet Natalie Hyde’s sweet little tale of teamwork took me back to the days of the untethered resourcefulness of my youth, when my friends and I thought we could fix anything life tossed our way. Saving Arm Pit (yes, that’s really the title) is a fantastic little surprise of a book; at only 133 pages, it manages to pack in some marvelous examples of childhood ingenuity at its best.

Jack and I stumbled across this book solely because it popped up as an Amazon recommendation. When our other suggested purchase was Jack’s all-time favorite, Wendy Mass’s The Candymakers, Jack knew we had to give it a shot. I, on the other hand, was doubtful; the cartoonish cover looked juvenile, and the blurb described a stereotypical rags-to-riches plot involving a baseball team. Who knew then that taking a long shot was going to be so fortuitous?

Yes, there’s a baseball team, and yes, they’re a bit juvenile (at first), but that’s ok because, hey:  Quiet Down There is a book club for kids. I slogged through the first chapter while Jack knocked out half of the entire book the first night. His excitement the next morning was magical.

So that next night I decided to go all Atticus Finch on Saving Arm Pit. I put on Jack’s shoes and turned the page…and didn’t stop until a few hours later.

You know what? Jack was right. This book is fantastic.

The Harmony Point Terriers aren’t just baseball players; they are go-getters. They take something as inevitable as growing-up and hitch their wagons to it, determined to enjoy the ride. This refreshing novel exudes springtime and youth and conviction and camaraderie.

There’s a multi-leveled underdog story here, and it’s not all on a baseball diamond–though that is an underlying storyline, so those non-sports-fans out there might be a little turned off. Hyde also incorporates a unique method of using various forms of communication to jumpstart each chapter. Nerdy English teacher note:  I used these single-page letters, advertisements, and posters as an introduction to the epistolary form. In fact, the concept of letter writing and its collective strength feeds Saving Arm Pit‘s meatier plot line. In our day-to-day lives where e-mail is king, seeing kids put actual pens to paper really drives home the importance of such personal correspondence, and these narrative descriptions nicely demonstrate the epistolary in a kid-friendly way. Next stop, Pamela. (Or, well, perhaps more realistically:  Flowers for Algernon.)

It is refreshing to stumble across a tale so deeply rooted in the effervescence of childhood. I promise you that the references to invented playground games, summers free from electronic gadgets, and, um, Barry Manilow will have you knee-deep in stories about the good old days with a child who is–let us subtly remind you–in the process of creating his very own good old days.

Like their Terrier mascot, the Harmony Point kids have boundless energy and take the hunt seriously. While Clay and Sophie might not change the whole world, they do change their little corner of the world, and that–to paraphrase Robert Frost–makes all the difference…much like spending time with a young reader talking about a book. Slowly but surely, the little things add up.

And that cartoonish cover I mentioned? Brilliantly loaded with information. Take a good look at it once you’ve finished the book.

Saving Arm Pit by Natalie Hyde (2011)

Jack: 8

Laura: 9.5 

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photo credit:  Amazon.com
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