Just Under the Clouds

Are you looking for a book to help teach empathy? 

When I received the novel, Just Under the Clouds in the mail for review from Penguin, I was immediately drawn to the story. As a passionate reader of all children’s literature both young and old, I was looking forward to reading the book. On a rainy Sunday, I sat down with the book and never stopped reading until I was done! After just a couple of pages, I was already captivated by the characters  and the story line. As a speech language pathologist for almost 18 years, I have met many children and adults who live in shelters, so this story really hit home for me. Being connected with these clients, I have seen the struggle they go through with regards to being in a safe and comfortable living situation and also having multiple disablities. I am also a New Yorker that lived in NYC for many years, so I also felt connected to the setting of the story. Check out Melissa Sarno’s website here to see what photographs inspired her to write this thoughtful middle school novel.

The characters in the story were very interesting and gave a variety of perspectives throughout the book. The main character, Cora, who is 12 years old is a big sister to Adare, a child who has special needs. Although it’s not clearly defined what special needs Adare has, her symptoms are described throughout the book as being “different” and not meeting her potential in her current school situation. Their mother has struggled both financially and emotionally since the passing of her husband. Cora and her family gets moved from place to place until they finally find a home of their own. They go though many different experiences both positive and negative, including getting robbed in one of their placements and then feeling safe with their mother’s friend in her apartment. This book is about love and friendships in both family and friend relationships. It’s also a book about a young girl’s struggle with who to bond with because of her fear of loss.

Just Under the Clouds also provides a perspective on what it’s like for Cora, who has many responsibilities as a 12 year old. She is not only responsible for her sister but at times doesn’t even know where they will sleep that night. She struggles with friendship, mixed feelings about her family relationships and finally how to feel safe and connected to those close in her life. The symbolic “tree of life” in the book can serve as an excellent way to discuss the story in a classroom setting or at the dinner table with your child. This book can also be a wonderful book to read aloud to your child so that discussion can be ongoing. Discuss the different characters feelings and how your lives are similar and different. How does Cora feel about friendships thoughout the book? What do you think Adare is going through and finally, what is life like for the mother? Why does she struggle? These are all stimulating ways to begin an in depth discussion about some real topics that affect families every day. 

Just Under the Clouds
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