What does it mean to be a hero? Yonder by Ali Standish

What does it mean to be a hero?  Are there times when it's okay to make taking care of yourself more important than taking care of others?  As teachers, we wrestle with this question.  So does Ali Standish in her latest book, Yonder.
Yonder is a thoughtfully told tale about a boy growing up in what feels like a “perfect” small town.  Neighbors look out for each other, and people help out in times of hardship.

Except when they don’t.  And that’s what Danny is just beginning to observe in this historical fiction novel set during World War II.  Danny’s father, like many others in his town, enlists in the Army, and Danny and his pregnant mom keep the newspaper and home running as best they can.

“We all want to see heroes.  To pat them on the back and shake their hands and tell them what a swell job they’ve done and how thankful we are.

We want them to be brave,  but we don’t want to hear that that bravery has cost them…We don’t want to hear their stories.  Not their true stories, anyway.

We’d rather tell stories of our own.

It was that way when the soldiers went off to war and when they came home,  and it was that way with Jack, too.”

Jack is the young boy, a few years older than Danny, who jumps into a flooded river to save young twins.  He befriends Danny and they spend afternoons together, talking, fishing, and swimming when the weather is warm.  But Jack has secrets of his own.  His father suffers from what we now call PTSD following World War I, and takes it out with his fists on his son.  People seem to know, yet no one intervenes.

Danny doesn't understand.  As he questions Jack's father's behavior, he begins to see that other people in his town have ways of doing things that don't seem quite right to him.  

"...I was coming to learn that there were great men and women in the world, and small ones, too."

The reader walks alongside Danny as he sees his town with eyes that are opening, and as he decides the kind of person he wants to be.  

This book told with rich descriptions and thoughtful questions about life would make a good read-aloud for a 5th, 6th, or 7th-grade classroom. 

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