Thursday, May 19, 2011
by Joan Bauer
So much did I enjoy Joan Bauer's Squashedthat I now have a trio of her books on my reading pile: Backwater, Peeled, and the Newbery honor Hope Was Here. What all her books seem to have in common are strong teens with consuming passions. In Squashed there is Wes, the new boy, who raises corn; Richard, the high school's center fielder, who lives for baseball; and Ellie, our hero, who grows pumpkins as large as she can.
Ellie has been enamored of large squashes since she was five and first saw Cinderella. Her number one goal is for her pumpkin, Max, to be the Winner of the Rock River Harvest Fair and Pumpkin Weigh-In. But the path to success is strewn with many obstacles: Cyril, whose pumpkins have taken first place in the Rock River Harvest Fair for four years running; her father, who finds her passionate pursuit pointless; pumpkin smashers on the loose, who are destroying all the large pumpkins in the area; the absence of her mother, who died when Ellie was eight; her crush on Wes, who she's sure will want to go out with Sharrell, who is almost certain to be crowned the next Sweet Corn Coquette, and finally the weather, both cold and hail trying to halt Max's weight gain.
But while Ellie is determined to pack the pounds on Max, she's equally committed to taking twenty pounds off her own body, a goal that's thwarted by her love of cooking and eating. I think middle school students will really enjoy reading about these motivated teens, motivated by their own desires rather than those of their parents'. As cousin Richard says, it's "typical of parents--wanting Willie Mays to also take piano lessons." But Bauer's teens, while they don't necessarily love what their parents want them to love, also don't need their parents to drive them to succeed; they've got goals and work hard to achieve them.