Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 12 to 18
- Grade: 7 to 12
With the unexpected help of a giant prehistoric sloth, ghostly grandfathers return to help a suicidal teenager.
Winning a national high-school geography competition should be the high point of Jomon’s life. So why does he find himself running through the streets of Georgetown, Guyana, later that same night — so angry and desperate? Why does he heave his hard-won medal through the front window of a liquor store?
Why does a teenaged boy decide life is not worth living?
Arrested by police and detained in a jail cell, Jomon is jolted out of his suicidal thoughts by the sudden appearance of another teenaged boy — who claims to be his great-great-grandfather ...
Meanwhile, across town, the pride of Guyana, the life-sized exhibit of a giant prehistoric sloth named Gather, disappears overnight from the Guyana National Museum. While museum officials argue over who is responsible for the disappearance and who is in charge of getting the sloth back, only Mrs. Simson, a museum cleaner, seems to understand what needs to be done.
And so begins a strange and marvelous journey, as Jomon is sentenced to a youth detention facility, and a succession of his dead grandfathers appears, each one of them having died by suicide. As the grandfathers argue among themselves and blame each other for their own fates, they keep a watch out for Jomon, to try to make sure he does not continue their family tradition.
In this short, fable-like story, Deborah Ellis comes at the timely and difficult issue of child suicide with restraint, compassion, and freshness, as the grandfathers overcome their own fraught histories to help their grandson, who in the end is aided by the appearance of a wondrous giant rodent, busy enjoying her own return to earthly existence.
About the author
Deborah Ellis is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books for children, including The Breadwinner Trilogy; The Heaven Shop; Lunch With Lenin; Children of War: Voices of Iraqi Refugees; and Our Stories, Our Songs: African Children Talk About AIDS. She has won many national and international awards for her books, including the Governor General’s Award, the Vicky Metcalf Award, Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize, the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, and the Children’s Africana Book Award Honor Book for Older Readers.Deborah knew she wanted to be a writer at the age of 11 or 12. Growing up in Paris, Ontario, she loved reading about big cities like New York. In high school, Deborah joined the Peace Movement, playing anti-Nuclear War movies at her school. Since then Deborah has become a peace activist, humanitarian and philanthropist, donating almost all of the royalties from her books to communities in need in Asia and Africa. Heavily involved with Women for Women in Afghanistan, Deborah has helped build women’s centers and schools, giving children education and finding work for women.In 2006, Deborah was named to the Order of Ontario. She now lives in Simcoe, Ontario.
Excerpt: The Greats (by (author) Deborah Ellis)
The Guyana night breeze, fresh from the ocean and rich from the jungle, slips into the exhibit hall through the gaps in the plastic sheeting. It inches around — exploring, discovering new territory, taking up new space.
It winds its way around Gather’s tree-trunk legs, then swirls over her strong belly and shoulders. It breathes a thousand scents into her nostrils. A thousand tastes dance on her tongue.
It whispers in her ears, “Come out!”
Gather smells and tastes and hears.
And wakes up.
Jomon feels a flutter of hope in his chest. There is a way out, after all.
He looks around the cell for an escape route.
There is a place where the bars in the door meet the bars in the wall. A crossbar, a place to tie something. He has no rope, but his school uniform shirt might do, especially if he tears it and twists it so it is like a rope. He could also, maybe, use his trousers, but he doesn’t want to be found in just his underwear.
Jomon takes off his shirt. He bites into the threads that hold the hem together, then rips the shirt right up the back.
Now he has something he can use.
“It won’t be that easy,” says a voice.
Jomon is startled. He looks in the direction of the voice.
It is coming from a boy, about his age, sitting in the cell across the hall from him.
[An] impactful story.
School Library Journal