“Life sure could get complicated for a sixth grader.”
Coming of age in the 1960s in Central Texas includes learning about racism and the unfair treatment of people of varying colors and backgrounds. Told from the point of view of an 11-year-old, Shaky Man takes us through the growth and maturing of a young boy growing up in a small town.
Thomas Oliver Parsley, or “Topper” for short, just wants to win the championship baseball game, watch Star Trek, and play basketball with his friends. New in town, he learns by word-of-mouth about Shaky Man, a mysterious recluse who lives alone, his existence tainted by rumors that he killed his own family and that he eats children. Topper takes a chance to discover what the man is really all about. At the same time, he experiences vicariously through his best friend Mickey Jackson, a black kid from Waco, how some people are treated differently just because they look different. Topper comes through both lessons all the richer.
For middle grade readers, this short novel teaches that relying on anecdotal stories about people isn’t always the best way to learn about someone. If a story sounds unbelievable, it’s best to check the facts. If Topper hadn’t taken the time to talk to Shaky Man, also known as Dr. Boone, he never would have learned some fun and valuable skills or have found a mentor willing to explain some of the big problems in life.
“My papa taught me not to let other folks put their malfunctions on me. You shouldn’t, either.” ~Mickey Jackson