Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Review of Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

Navigating Early
by Clare Vanderpool

320 pages

Published Jan. 2013 by 
Delacourt Books for Young Readers

Review copy provided by

I rate this book 5 out of 5 stars!!

A Summary from  

At the end of World War II, Jack Baker, a landlocked Kansas boy, is suddenly uprooted after his mother’s death and placed in a boy’s boarding school in Maine. There, Jack encounters Early Auden, the strangest of boys, who reads the number pi as a story and collects clippings about the sightings of a great black bear in the nearby mountains.
Newcomer Jack feels lost yet can’t help being drawn to Early, who won’t believe what everyone accepts to be the truth about the Great Appalachian Bear, Timber Rattlesnakes, and the legendary school hero known as The Fish, who never returned from the war. When the boys find themselves unexpectedly alone at school, they embark on a quest on the Appalachian Trail in search of the great black bear.
But what they are searching for is sometimes different from what they find. They will meet truly strange characters, each of whom figures into the pi story Early weaves as they travel, while discovering things they never realized about themselves and others in their lives.

What I think...
With her very first novel (Moon Over Manifest) winning the Newbery Medal, Clare Vanderpool had set the bar high. In my opinion, this second book, although different, is just as good.  

I loved this book for many reasons.  First, I like books that are set in Maine.  It is fun to read and be able to exactly picture the settings.  I also love Early.  I am drawn to books with characters who have an autism spectrum diagnosis. Because of his preoccupation with numbers (the number pi particularly) and how he sees them as having colors, textures and movement, I was reminded of another book I had read.  In his book, Born on a Blue Day, mathematical savant Daniel Tammet explains how he sees numbers the same way.  In her epilogue, Vanderpool writes that she did indeed base some of Early's characteristics on Tammet.  However, since the book is set in the mid to late 1940's, Asperger's Syndrome is not yet a recognized diagnosis so it is not discussed in the book.  Early is just seen as different or strange by the other boys. 

Early and Jack are both social outsiders at their boarding school. Jack is a newcomer and Early is just seen as weird.  They have both lost a close loved one. Jack's mom passed away about a year earlier and Early's brother did not return from the war. Early, with his logical mind, is not convinced that his brother is dead and sets out to find him in the woods of Maine during a school break.  Jack's father cancelled a visit so Jack is left alone during break and decides to accompany Early on his quest.  Throughout the trip Early tells the story of "pi".  This story quite closely parallels their journey including pirates, an "ancient one" and a huge black bear.  I loved watching their friendship develop and how Jack's view of Early changed as they get to know each other better.  Maybe he's not so different after all.

Clare Vanderpool has written a book with an intricately woven plot with coincidences, twists and turns around every corner.  
I would recommend this book for ages 10 and up.  
It would make a good read aloud in grades 4-6.  
Themes covered include: accepting differences, loss of a parent or sibling, military families, friendship, nature/wilderness quests and perseverance.

Please Visit Clare Vanderpool's website for more info on her books.



  1. This is such a good book! It was a real departure from what I have been reading lately. I have been recommending it to everyone.

  2. This was a very touching book and the moments were very rare to happen to someone, like Jack