"Beth Gardner describes her transformation
from a student who prefers to be invisible to one who chooses the notoriety that
comes with Civil Disobedience. Her
catalyst is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden
which Beth’s English class is to use as the basis for a group project on an ‘Experiment
in Living.’ She becomes increasingly
intrigued with Thoreau’s ideas but says, ‘I wasn’t prepared for the all-out savagery
of Pick Your Partners Day." She drifts
over to where a few other kids are standing, and as they watch the melee caused
by the ‘popular’ kids, they end up together.
The four partners build a cabin in idyllic Wayburn Woods and try to experience Thoreau’s
philosophy as closely as possible.
As they develop innate talents, they grow to appreciate one another’s unique abilities,
but at the same time they suffer social problems typical to middle-school students:
looks, grades, popularity, family, and status. The author weaves these threads into a multidimensional novel that involves
the entire Pine Brook School
population as they work together to save Wayburn Woods when it is sold to developers."
"An excellent introduction to Thoreau and
a fine companion to Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain."
"Crisp and often lyrical."
"This memorable story spotlights the power
of great ideas to transform young lives."
"Vaupel uses appealing characters to achieve
a surprising and believable conclusion that will gently inspire middle and junior
high school students to rethink peer group labels."
"Vaupel creates a painfully accurate portrayal
of middle-school social dynamics."
Contract with Henry is the adventure I wish I’d had when I first met Henry Thoreau
in ninth-grade. My project was not
nearly as interesting or ambitious as Beth’s. Students often ask me if I create characters for my novels from real students
that I’ve known, and the answer is yes. I’m
lucky to have a huge back-log of remarkable young people who have passed through
my classroom, though fictional characters end up being amalgams of the real and
the imagined with large bits of myself thrown in too.
Robin at Walden Pond