word craft


The Most Important Thing

The Most Important Thing

Can­dlewick Press, 2016

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audio book nar­rat­ed by 
Todd Haberkorn

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Stories about Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers

What’s this book about?

Luke sees the ghost of his father but can’t fig­ure out what Dad wants him to do. Paul takes a camp­ing trip with the grand­fa­ther he’s just met and dis­cov­ers what lies behind the man’s errat­ic behav­ior. Ryan has some sur­pris­ing ques­tions when he inter­views his prospec­tive step­fa­ther for the job. In a com­pelling­ly hon­est col­lec­tion of sto­ries, mul­ti­ple-award-win­ning author Avi intro­duces sev­en boys—boys with fathers at home and boys whose fathers have left, boys who spend most of their time with their grand­fa­thers and boys who would rather spend time with any­one but the men in their lives. By turns heart­break­ing, hope­ful, and fun­ny, the sto­ries show us boys seek­ing accep­tance, guid­ance, or just some­one to look up to. Each one shines a dif­fer­ent light on the ques­tion “What is the most impor­tant thing a father can do for his son?”

Story Behind the Story

Though writ­ing short sto­ries is noth­ing I do on a reg­u­lar basis, I read them, and occa­sion­al­ly write them. More often than not I have writ­ten them at the behest of edi­tors ask­ing for a sto­ry for a themed anthol­o­gy, such as “Loss,” or “Guns,” “School Life,” or even the begin­ning of a new mil­len­ni­al, as say, the year 2000.

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“In this col­lec­tion of sev­en heart­felt sto­ries, the inde­fati­ga­ble Avi breathes new life into an old theme: the rela­tion­ship between sons and fathers (and the occa­sion­al grand­fa­ther). Rang­ing in tone from the somber (“Depart­ed”) to the spright­ly (“Tighty-Whities or Box­ers?”), the sto­ries have in com­mon a psy­cho­log­i­cal acu­ity, the pres­ence of inevitable change, and the grace of Avi’s sim­i­le-rich style. Inter­est­ing­ly, a num­ber of the sto­ries are notable for the emo­tion­al or phys­i­cal absence of fathers, and often, when they are present, they are feck­less (“Going Home”) or bul­ly­ing (“Beat Up”). In arguably the strongest sto­ry, “Dream Catch­er,” a boy with a dis­tant rela­tion­ship with his father is sent to vis­it the grand­fa­ther he has nev­er met. As it hap­pens, the tac­i­turn grand­fa­ther is a Viet­nam vet­er­an who suf­fers from PTSD. As for the most amus­ing sto­ry, “The Amal­fi Duo,” the grand­fa­ther in it suf­fers from a sur­feit of self-con­fi­dence that is shak­en when his grand­son out­per­forms him. The book is pref­aced with an intrigu­ing ques­tion: “What’s the most impor­tant thing you can do for your son?” The answer, some read­ers will think, is offered not by a father but, instead by a prospec­tive step­fa­ther. His answer: “Love him.” HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: It would take a full book just to list Avi’s accom­plish­ments; librar­i­ans know it and will sense that this is one of the author’s more heart­felt works.” (Michael Cart, Book­list, starred review)

Mul­ti-award-win­ning author Avi asks as an epi­graph, ‘What’s the most impor­tant thing you can do for your son?’ Through sev­en short sto­ries, he exam­ines the trou­bled, touch­ing, frac­tured, bur­geon­ing, and beau­ti­ful rela­tion­ships of sev­en dif­fer­ent young men and their fathers, grand­fa­thers, and, on the periph­ery, their moth­ers. There’s Paul, who begins to under­stand his dis­tant father only after being forced into a week­end with an estranged (and strange) grand­fa­ther. There’s the para­nor­mal insis­tence of Luke’s dead father on spend­ing one last moment with his mourn­ing son. There’s the heart­felt involve­ment of Ryan in his moth­er’s accep­tance of a mar­riage pro­pos­al. But this isn’t a col­lec­tion of gold­en-deli­cious Nor­man Rock­well-style opti­mism. A macho father is ashamed of his pas­sive son, a know-it-all annoy­ing grand­fa­ther frus­trates his grand­son, and an absent father has aban­doned his fam­i­ly com­plete­ly. Avi’s sep­tu­plet of sto­ries sug­gests that the best thing you can do for your son might just be to hope you’ve some­how giv­en him the tools to evolve into an adult who will love and under­stand you on the oth­er side. Though this is tuned to the XY fre­quen­cy, don’t dis­count it as a book for daugh­ters who val­ue such beau­ti­ful prose as ‘Now, snow drift­ing down, slow­ly, steadi­ly, each flake the ghost of a leaf.’ What Oedi­pus did­n’t know about the intri­ca­cies of father/son kin­ship could fill a book—and has. (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

In these sev­en short sto­ries from Avi (Catch You Lat­er, Trai­tor), the rela­tion­ships among fathers, grand­fa­thers, and sons are as var­ied as the clear­ly delin­eat­ed char­ac­ters them­selves. There’s eighth-grad­er Paul, who is a vir­tu­al stranger to his war-vet­er­an grand­fa­ther until they are unex­pect­ed­ly thrown togeth­er for a week. In con­trast, Luke, 12, is so con­nect­ed to his father that they are able to com­mu­ni­cate even after an acci­dent phys­i­cal­ly tears them apart. Then there’s 11-year-old Ryan, who insists on inter­view­ing his mother’s boyfriend for “the job of being my father” (“Two writ­ten ref­er­ences must be pro­vid­ed, one from kid,” reads the job descrip­tion Ryan puts togeth­er). Whether good, bad, or indif­fer­ent, the feel­ings and out­looks of Avi’s young pro­tag­o­nists are deeply influ­enced by the men in their lives. End­ings are not always hap­py or neat, but moments of dis­cov­ery and recog­ni­tion point the way to change. Avi’s deft incor­po­ra­tion of humor, heartache, and the occa­sion­al touch of the super­nat­ur­al will draw read­ers in as they pon­der how fam­i­ly ties bind in both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ways. Ages 10–up. (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

“Avi is a mas­ter of just about any­thing he writes, and this col­lec­tion is superbly craft­ed and ide­al for dis­cus­sions. (Sharon Ver­beten, Book­Page)

Audio Book review: “Todd Haberko­rn pas­sion­ate­ly nar­rates sev­en sto­ries that illus­trate the dynam­ics of son, father, and grand­fa­ther rela­tion­ships. The sto­ries are told in the first and third per­son, with the boys rang­ing in age from 11 to 13. Haberko­rn is splen­did regard­less of age, and his enthu­si­asm keeps lis­ten­ers want­i­ng to learn what hap­pens next. In ‘The Amal­fi Duo,’ Mar­co’s grandad is his hero who seems to know every­thing UNTIL they take recorder lessons togeth­er. The sub­tle change in their rela­tion­ship is audi­ble in Haberko­rn’s thought­ful deliv­ery. Most mov­ing is ‘Depart­ed,’ in which Luke scat­ters his beloved dad’s ash­es on a lake they both loved. ‘Tighty Whities or Box­ers?’ is hilar­i­ous when high- spir­it­ed Ryan ‘inter­views’ the guy who wants to mar­ry his mom.” S.G.B. © AudioFile 2016, Port­land, Maine (review­ing the audio book)

“In a col­lec­tion of sev­en short sto­ries, Avi brings to life the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships between fathers and sons, grand­fa­thers and grand­sons, and step­fa­thers and step­sons and explores those sons with­out a father fig­ure at all. In one tale, a teenag­er is shipped off for a week with a grand­fa­ther he nev­er met and who nev­er speaks to his own son, only to find under­stand­ing and a new, albeit com­pli­cat­ed, rela­tion­ship. In anoth­er, a son arrives at his father’s for the week­end only to dis­cov­er that he has gained a new step­moth­er since his last vis­it. In a dif­fer­ent sto­ry, a boy inter­views his mother’s boyfriend for the posi­tion of step­fa­ther. Anoth­er selec­tion high­lights the com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship between a son who strug­gles to con­nect with his father, whose inter­ests are much dif­fer­ent than his own. Avi also tack­les the impact that the loss of a father can have on his young son, the empti­ness that a boy who has nev­er known his father feels, and a grand­fa­ther who lives with his son’s fam­i­ly. The son or grand­son in each entry is either a young teen or a boy on the edge of his teenage years, which adds to the poignan­cy and emo­tion­al ties. Togeth­er, these offer­ings weave a pic­ture of the rela­tion­ships that can devel­op between teenage boys and their fathers and grandfathers—or the lack there­of. The pieces could be read sep­a­rate­ly in a class­room set­ting. Though short sto­ries can be a hard sell in a library set­ting, read­ers who take a chance on this col­lec­tion will be reward­ed. VERDICT Pur­chase where short sto­ry col­lec­tions or real­is­tic fic­tion fea­tur­ing male char­ac­ters is need­ed.” (Car­li Worth­man, Carmel Mid­dle School, Carmel, IN, School Library Jour­nal)

“Avi offers a mul­ti­fac­eted view of the way boys and men relate to each oth­er, paint­ing nei­ther a per­fect­ly rosy nor dread­ful­ly bleak pic­ture, and he gives space for each character’s per­son­al­i­ty, mak­ing it clear that the rela­tion­ships are weight­ed both with his­to­ry and the boys’ and men’s tem­pera­ments. Few of the sto­ries offer com­plete res­o­lu­tion, instead offer­ing a snap­shot of an ongo­ing and shift­ing con­nec­tion. (KQG, Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books)

“Sev­en short sto­ries, some writ­ten in first per­son, some in third, offer glimpses into the lives of sev­en mid­dle-school boys as they nav­i­gate com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with fathers and grand­fa­thers. Divorces, aban­don­ment, estrange­ment, and death fig­ure into the plots, and the pro­tag­o­nists must learn to find their places in their recon­fig­ured fam­i­lies. Where is home, exact­ly, when a father leaves and sets up anoth­er home else­where? How do you forge a rela­tion­ship with a grand­fa­ther when his own son doesn’t get along with him? How do you deal with a father who thinks you’re a cow­ard? Res­o­lu­tions are nev­er pat, usu­al­ly leav­ing pro­tag­o­nists with just the begin­nings of a new under­stand­ing. ‘What is the most impor­tant thing a father can do for his son?’ The sto­ries don’t direct­ly answer the ques­tion, but they do show the con­se­quences of a father’s absence, either phys­i­cal­ly or emo­tion­al­ly, and the var­ied ways boys find to com­pen­sate for the loss. ‘Be there,’ the sto­ries seem to say to fathers and grand­fa­thers. (Dean Schnei­der, The Horn Book)

“A col­lec­tion of short sto­ries that read­ers will find touch­ing, relat­able, and some­times heart­break­ing. Author Avi takes an hon­est sto­ry­telling approach to reveal the effects fathers and grand­fa­thers have on the young men in their lives.” (Wash­ing­ton Post)

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