Monday, April 29, 2019

Book Review: Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield

In this vintage middle grade novel originally published in 1957, Jimmy Carter (no relation to the man who would later become president) is a Boy Scout and a baseball player. All of that changes, however, when one of his friends sets off a firework and Jimmy is blinded. Determined to resume his old activities, Jimmy works hard to learn new ways of reading, writing, and navigating the world without his sense of sight. His efforts ultimately lead to his being matched with a guide dog to act as his eyes.

My five-year-old is very interested in understanding how people who are blind live their lives, and this book, despite its very "after school special" style really engaged that interest. Though some of the information about disability laws and such has change in 60 years, the details about Braille, using a cane, and interacting with a guide dog were mostly still relevant. She loved having me read the book to her, and she continues to speak of Jimmy and his dog, Leader, in a way that suggests they felt very real to her.

For me, this was not a favorite read-aloud. The text is very dry, and the dialogue sounds like it might have been lifted from Leave it to Beaver. Jimmy is also a bit too perfect and generally takes all of his setbacks in stride, which is an admirable quality, but feels a bit false when there are no flaws to add depth to his character. I probably would have preferred to learn about the blind from a memoir or other nonfiction book, but my story-oriented daughter likes having a character to latch onto, and it was enjoyable to observe her reactions to the book. I also thought about my dad a lot when I was reading. He would have been 11 in 1957, the same as Jimmy, so in some ways, this felt like a little window into his childhood as well, even though I don't think he knew any child who was blind.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, I remember seeing this in my grade school library back in the 80's!

    Your daughter might enjoy The Seeing Summer by Jeannette Eyerly (Goodreads link: ), about a girl whose new next door neighbor, a girl her own age, is blind. They become fast friends, and Carey learns that blindness can even be an asset after the girls are kidnapped. (You may want to read it first to determine whether your daughter can handle it. It's been years since I last read this, but I don't remember anything being TOO frightening, and probably no more so than a fireworks explosion blinding a young boy. The kidnappers are obviously bad guys, but they take Jenny, the friend, because of who her parents are, and Carey is taken when she goes to look for Jenny. I enjoyed this when I was young and ended up learning a lot about life as a blind child.)

    As for memoirs, Do You Dream in Color by Laurie Rubin, a blind opera singer, is delightful! ( )