by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
For me—a kid from Newton, Massachusetts—Florida was a magical place.
Practically nothing compared to the feeling of boarding an airplane in the dead of winter wearing my ski jacket and boots (and wearing nice clothes because we had to dress up to go on a flight back then) and getting off in warm sunshine.
First as a family, and then later on when I could go by myself, we would spend one week in the winter visiting my grandparents and Aunt Linda at their apartment on South Ocean Drive in Hollywood, Florida—that ski jacket hanging ominously in the back of the closet the whole time.
Every single thing I did during my time in Florida was radically different from my regular New England life.
We wore shorts and flip-flops. We could walk down to the private apartment-complex pool, which was a lot different from the MDC public pool back home (which was, of course, closed in the dead of winter).
While driving down South Ocean Drive on our way to eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Rascal House, I would see signs for people, places, and things I did not see on my regular routes back home: jai alai, SeaWorld, miniature golf courses everywhere, Flamingo Gardens, boats driving up and down the Intracoastal Waterway like it was the Mass Pike…
…water-skiing, alligator postcards, convertibles (which were considered so dangerous and impractical in my regular, day-to-day life), and everyone wearing shorts and tank tops or bathing suits on the boardwalk and going to the beach in the middle of the week.…It was all so exotic.
To a bundled-up girl from Massachusetts, everything about Florida felt free and easy—and a little wild.
Plus there was Disney World.
Growing up, we went to amusement parks on Nantasket and Weirs Beaches. But during the winter, we had to stick to indoor-outdoor trips to places like Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village—definitely interesting for school trips, but they couldn’t compare to a ride through It’s a Small World.
I (probably) understood then that daily life throughout the state of Florida was not as warm and sunny and free and easy as it seemed on my midwinter spring-break vacation to my grandparents’ condo. But there was still something different about Florida.
Everything about Florida was a little bit different—and demanded a little extra something of me. I always had to take an extra moment during timed dinner-table state-capital quizzes (don’t ask!) to remember that Florida’s capital was the four-syllable Tallahassee with three pairs of double letters.
Plus the state itself is such a cool shape on any map.
I would say that almost every day, something about Florida comes up. Of course just this past Sunday, Super Bowl LIV was played in Miami at Hard Rock Stadium. (Interestingly, I also learned that cities compete to host the Super Bowl and have to woo the NFL, similar to what happens with the Olympics.)
And just this morning, I learned that the smallest post office in the country is in Ochopee, Florida. It’s a seven-by-eight-foot renovated irrigation pipe shed for a tomato farm manned by one clerk, Shannon Mitchell, who says she has the “coolest job in the world.”
There’s just something about the place.
Florida is an important character in the major books of many famous children’s book authors, such as Carl Hiaasen, whose Newbery Honor–winning Hoot is about kids in Florida trying to protect the natural habitat of an owl.
My friend, the Newbery Medal–winning Elaine Konigsburg, featured Florida in a few of her books, such as The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (her last book, which takes place in the fictional town of St. Malo, Florida) and The View from Saturday—a Book of the Week pick from this past fall—in which Noah attends a wedding at Century Village in South Florida.
Elaine wrote from her studio in Ponte Vedra Beach and was posthumously inducted into the Literary Legends Hall of Fame at the 2016 Florida Heritage Book Festival.
And, as you’ll learn when you read her interview, Kate DiCamillo is “fascinated” by Florida. Many of Kate’s books are set in Florida, including Because of Winn-Dixie, Raymie Nightingale and its sequels (Louisiana’s Way Home and Beverly, Right Here), and the Book of the Week: her funny, sad, award-winning, bestselling, so readable, and rereadable novel The Tiger Rising. When we asked why she chose Florida as its setting, this is what she told us:
“It’s where I grew up. Telling stories of childhood there always makes emotional sense to me.”
In the story, a 12-year-old boy named Rob and his father move to Lister, Florida. Rob’s mom recently passed away, and his dad wants them to start anew.
“A multifaceted story with characters who will tug at readers’ hearts.” —School Library Journal
My friend and colleague David Vozar didn’t focus on the Florida aspect of The Tiger Rising when he drew his comic this week, but he was deeply moved by Kate DiCamillo’s storytelling.
Don’t miss getting The Tiger Rising for one dollar for one week only. Our team at Scholastic Book Clubs put together some materials and resources to help you share this touching novel with your students:
• Play the Book Boys’ video in class to spark a conversation about themes, symbolism, and characters
• See how one English language arts teacher uses The Tiger Rising to foster positive peer relationships in the classroom in a review video
• Download a free debate organizer and prompts to encourage critical thinking among students about complicated characters
• Read an exclusive interview with mega-bestselling reader-favorite author Kate DiCamillo
The Tiger Rising is a special read to all of us at Scholastic Book Clubs—we hope the story stays with you and your students long after you put the book down!
Happy reading—and please send me any Florida stories you’d like to share at: JNBlog@scholastic.com
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs