One of my favorite books of September for middle graders is Richard Peck’s The Best Man. Peck has authored several books for young readers and won multiple awards including the venerable Newbery Medal, but I feel like this is one of his best.
The story is about Archer Magill, a thoughtful boy who is working out who he wants to be when he grows up. He is close to his family, and his grandfather, his dad, and his Uncle Paul all have qualities he would like to emulate. Then with the start of middle school a new male role model enters his life, a student teacher named Mr. McLeod.
The book begins with a wedding disaster perpetrated by a much younger Archer, and by the end he somehow finds himself once again participating in a wedding ceremony, only this time there are two grooms. There is lots of humor and wisdom in The Best Man, and to me it embodies what I want most for my child–to be caring, compassionate, and let the best of you shine through.
Below is an original piece from Richard Peck about how he came to write The Best Man:
How THE BEST MAN Came to Be
The book was born, or at least begun, on the June day in 2014 when Illinois state legislation implemented same-sex marriage. I hoped that by the time the book was finished, same-sex marriage would be the law of the land. But history moved faster than my book.
History often does. History moves in fits and starts and takes sudden leaps. And now for the first time in our history marriage is everybody’s right.
But have the youngest readers among us heard? The standardized test and the textbook haven’t caught up. It seemed to me it was time for a story. A novel was needed, addressed to grade-school and middle-school readers. A novel to spark discussion and to open a door to a world suddenly living in a whole different era.
When I began to hear the story in my head, a boy was telling it, a boy looking ahead to the adult world in search of role models. I give him some great ones: a grandfather, a dad, an uncle, a teacher. A dad who’s doing his best to be a good father to his son and a good son to his father. An uncle who can sweep the world clean of the scariest bully in first grade. A teacher who thinks fifth-graders are strange and fascinating characters.
And so the story is all about a boy named Archer Magill, trying to untangle the bewildering world of his adults and to get his role models in a row. Then one of them wants to marry another one of them.
I hope my story doesn’t preach, and I hope it’s not political. I hope it’s a story about love and loss and laughter and family. About how people live today, American people, with their young ones looking up to them. I hope it’s a story about how history happens even if you aren’t learning any in school.
–Richard Peck, 2016
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