Middle Grade Fiction
Age Range: 8-12 years
Grade Level: 3-7
Published by Yearling, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books
Copyright © 1995 by Barbara Park
Cover photo © 2006 by Michael Price/Veer
WHY MICK HARTE WAS HERE IS A KEM GEM
MICK HARTE is an example of Barbara Park’s great wisdom; she takes an awful outcome and creates a beautiful story about a fully dimensional 12 year-old boy. It is difficult to start a novel with the death of a boy, a sibling, a friend….unless, he’s a prankster. Mick’s trouble-making ways get you laughing from the start. His strong-will and propensity to tease kept me laughing, even though I was grieving right along with his polar-opposite sister, Phoebe. It is not until Phoebe shares her frustration about losing something that will never be returned, that I truly felt the weight of Mick’s death, right in the gut. But Barbara saved me, with utter wisdom, by suggesting that Phoebe, “Put him everywhere, why don’t you?”, just like God’s presence.
Barbara Park has aptly woven a story of past and present, through recollections of a boy’s relationship with his cowboy dog, Wocket; a mail carrier; a florist deliverer and a school assembly. MICK HARTE WAS HERE will stick with me, like printed letters in cement.
One of my favorite aspects of Barbara Park’s writing is her ability to observe, and then word those observations in such a way that each reader can relate. Even in harsh, unfamiliar territory, such as the painful, sudden loss of a young loved one, we have a companion in Park’s characters.
Having lost a dear friend at age 15, I experienced first-hand Phoebe Harte’s emotions and questions. Zoe Santos was also a reminder of the priceless sympathy of a best friend.
Phoebe’s story is not only helpful for young readers needing assurance that they’re not alone in their grief. Its insights are poignantly enlightening for those who have thus far remained unscathed by the death of a peer.
Zo picked up on the first ring. “H’lo?”
I didn’t say anything. She knew it was me, though. Me and Zoe sort of have a psychic thing going, sometimes.
“You okay?” she asked.
I took a shaky breath. “No.”
She came right over.
When discussing favorite children’s books, my Black Sheep memoir friend, Davis, a drug addiction counselor, said his was the fictional middle grade novel, MICK HARTE WAS HERE. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the 1995 treasure was written by the author of the beloved JUNIE B. JONES series, recently deceased Barbara Park.
Park wrote this conversational story with such heart and humor, I’d swear narrator Phoebe Harte really was Park’s 13-year-old self. As a storyteller, Park knew and loved her audience. She tackled the complex subject of death candidly, yet compassionately, without being overdramatic or condescendingly romantic about the deceased person’s life. We felt Phoebe’s pain and we marveled in her hope. MICK HARTE WAS HERE is the perfect writer’s resource on how to be real. I can see why it was Davis’ favorite.
But I can still remember the exact conversation I had with Santa Claus when I was in kindergarten.
He said, “Ho ho ho.”
I said, “Your breath smells.”
And he said, “Get down.”
EXCERPT FROM MICK HARTE WAS HERE
I don’t want to make you cry.
I just want to tell you about a story about Mick.
But I thought you should know right up front that he’s not here anymore.
I just thought that would be fair.
This recommendation is our tribute to Barbara Park who died of cancer November 15, 2013.
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