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"The Pinballs" by Betsy Byars is a wonderful story. The story begins with three foster children who are sent to live with the Masons, a married couple who cannot have children on their own. The children are removed from their home for different reasons.
When Harvey first arrives at the Mason home, he has two broken legs. His father had accidentally hit him with his new car during an argument. Harvey's mother left the family to live on a commune and he has not seen her since he was about 7 or 8-years-old. His father became a functioning alcoholic soon after.
Thomas J finds himself with the Mason family when the 90-year-old twins who have been raising him both fall and break their hips (on the same day at the exact same time). Thomas J has no memory of his family. He was told by the twins that he simply wandered into their yard when he was about one year old. They meant to take him into the city to child services, but in their old age, they just never got around to it.
Carlie is the most outspoken of the three children and no longer lives at home because of the violence between her and her mother's boyfriend. Carlie is very rough around the edges and despite the violence in her home, she still believes that she will be back at home in a matter of weeks. The book gets its name because Carlie refers to herself and the other foster children as pin-balls that get bounced from one place to another.
The children are dealing with their own issues while trying to find a place in their new surroundings. Although they all come from different backgrounds, with the help of the Masons, the children learn that being a family means standing by each other in hard times and standing up for one another. It ends with them realizing that they are no longer pin-balls, because they have found one with each other.
This is an excellent novel to use when teaching characterization as the characters do change and grow from the beginning to the end of the story. It teaches themes like friendship, forgiveness, and of course family.
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