It is 1838; the Panic of 1837 has taken Jake’s father’s money and job, and 12-year-old Jake and his family have moved from Boston to a small, run-down, farmhouse on the outskirts of Wiscasset, Maine, to start over, bringing with them a deep family secret. When his father’s new job at the lumber mill takes him away from home, Jake’s mother tells him, “I’ll have to depend on you.” But how can Jake find food and prepare for the dangerous cold of a Maine winter when he’s never even chopped wood? How can he protect his mother – and the family secret they brought with them? A job at the local jail, and friendship with a neighbor girl who is also struggling with a family secret, helps. But as the pressures of their new life begin to pull his parents apart, Jake realizes he must also bring his family together to face the future – and their past.
- Student Choice Award Nominee in Missouri
- Children's Book Council Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
- Lamplighter Award Nominee
- On Horn Book "recommended American Historical Fiction" list
- Maine Humanities Council “100 Favorite Maine Books”
Kirkus Reviews: “Through hard work and the help of a colorful cast of characters, Jake learns that, despite their hard circumstances, life in Maine can be the ‘finest kind’, the best of the best. Well-written with loving detail about life in coastal Maine and a lesson clearly taught about the importance of friends and community, this is a story that will linger in the hearts of readers.”
Teachers and Librarians:
Lexile: 680L Accelerated Reader Points: 7.0
Set in 1838, the plot of Finest Kind is set in motion as a result of the Panic of 1837. (Common Core Standard: Economic System of the United States.)
Jake and his family leave their upper class home in Boston and arrive on the outskirts of rural Wiscasset because they have a relative in the area. (Common Core Standards: Interdependence of Households; Economic Consequences of Personal Their son Frankie was born severely disabled, and, afraid they would be judged sinful because of his birth (Common Core
Standard: Change in Beliefs Over Time) they've always hidden him. Here in the countryside that will be more difficult.
Jake’s father must live at the mill where he works. Since his mother must stay with Frankie, Jake must find food and learn about the community on his own. He meets Nabby, a girl who’s also hiding a family secret and trying to keep her family together. (No organizations or government are helping these children – more changes in beliefs.) Nabby’s friend Simon, an intellectually disabled adult, and Granny McPherson, an old woman who many in town believe is a witch, are two people who help both Nabby and Jake. Their relationships with the community would be an interesting discussion on the interdependence of the community.
During the book Halloween is mentioned as a holiday usually celebrated abroad, and at the end of the story, there is a celebration of Christmas in which Dr. Theobold, a second generation German immigrant, has a small Christmas tree – the first any in the story have ever seen. Traditions are changing.
How does the relationship between Jake and Frankie change as the story continues?
Jake’s family has a secret. But there are other secrets in Finest Kind, too. What is Nabby’s family’s secret? Father’s secret?
Do you think Simon should have been put in jail? Why, or why not?
The mirror Father gives Mother for Christmas is a symbol. What is it a symbol of?
In Finest Kind people in Wiscasset celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. How are their celebrations different from the way we celebrate today?
Granny McPherson lives by herself, far from the village. Do any people today choose to live by themselves? Who? Why?
Granny is an old woman. Do you think people would have thought she was a witch if she were young and pretty?
How are people like Simon treated today?
Do you think Simon would have been treated differently if he had lived in a city instead of in a small town?
No one, not even Dr. Theobold, can make Frankie’s fits stop. Are there any physical problems or diseases today that no one can cure? Do you think some day they will be curable?
Compare and contrast Jake’s life in Boston and his life in Maine. In Maine he had to learn many things he hadn’t had to know in Boston. What were some of those things? Which things do you think were the hardest for him to learn?
Jake would like Tom to be his friend. Why do you think Tom is often mean to him? Do you think they will ever be friends? Why or why not?
What do you think Jake will choose to do in the future? Do you think he will stay in Maine, go back to live in Boston, or live somewhere else? What will he choose to do as an adult?
New vocabulary words in Finest Kind: