It is a rare opportunity when you get to share a novel with just one student, and that is just the opportunity I had with my niece while reading Sweeping Up The Heart by Kevin Henkes last summer. Maria and I had been on the hunt for a book to share together when we walked into Market Block Books, an independent bookstore in Troy, New York. We giggled with delight when we found two signed copies of Sweeping Up The Heart by Kevin Henkes, one of our favorite authors. We read the jacket and KNEW that this book was THE ONE! Little did we know that this tale of loss, loneliness, relationships and hope would be one of our favorite books of the summer.
Sweeping Up The Heart is the story of Amelia Albright and her English professor father, Gordon. Amelia’s mother died of cancer when she was two years old and she is learning to navigate life with her quiet and seemingly distant,English Professor father. She is supported by her neighbor, Mrs. O’Brien who also acts as a mother figure for Amelia. Instead of going away for school vacation, Amelia stays at home and spends time at a local clay studio where she meets Casey, the nephew of the studio owner. Throughout the story, all of the characters learn to navigate new and existing relationships; father/daughter, old friends/new friends, and child/adult. They have hopes and dreams for each other and through a series of events they learn how to achieve their dreams and realize their hopes for one another. It’s hard not to be “swept up” by Sweeping Up The Heart.
Teachers know that the secret to successful classroom community is all about developing relationships with students. Henkes is masterful at developing the relationships among the characters and showcasing how they change and grow over time.
Given the themes of death and grief, this story may be more suited for upper elementary and middle school students.
Being able to share this story with just one student enabled me to examine different aspects of the story that were of interest to the student. It also led to deep and talk worthy discussions that were meaningful to the student. Every teacher should take the time to enjoy a one on one reading experience with a student.
My student partner said:
Henkes author moves are intentional. It was most important to show growth in the father/daughter relationship.
Mrs. O’Brien was Amelia’s mother figure. It was hard for Amelia to think about her own mother without a sense of longing and therefore she develops a strong connection with Mrs. O’Brien.
Henkes introduces Casey as Amelia’s new friend in order to show her that she has to have faith in people and to believe in the goodness of humankind. Amelia teaches Casey that it is important to have hope in people, but remember to maintain realistic expectations so as not to be disappointed and/or hurt by others.
Sweeping Up The Heart is a metaphor for building, maintaining and repairing relationships. Henkes reminds us about the importance of caring for others as one of the many secrets to leading a happy life.
Reading with a partner is FUN!!! It is great to share literature with someone else because it deepens your relationship and opens it up to new experiences. Sharing a great novel with a family member is even sweeter!