The Secret of Clouds
by Alyson Richman brings to life the bond between a teacher
and student. In the current environment, it is a reminder
of how precious life is even for a fleeting moment. It is
a story of hope and the dreams of a young boy whom readers
will connect with immediately.
noted, "The title came from my son saying to me after
my grandmother died, that he wishes there would be a family
cloud. I put a sentence in the book, "We have to hope
every family has a family cloud that will unite everyone."
I tried to explain death to him. He wanted to know where she
went, how is it she was here one day and gone the next. He
looked up to me and said, ‘Mommy, I just have to hope
there is a family cloud.' I thought that was so beautiful.
All my novels have a message of being kind to one another
as the characters become knitted together. In this book, light
was brought into the household. Within a community, people
could leave a lasting fingerprint on each other."
book opens with Sasha and Katya living in Ukraine. They move
to America but discover their young son, Yuri, has a major
heart defect caused by the exposure to nuclear radiation.
Because of his condition, he is not allowed to attend school
with other students. Assigned as a home school English teacher,
Maggie Topper needs to find a way to connect with Yuri. Realizing
Yuri is passionate for baseball she uses it as a teaching
tool, having him read the biography of Shoeless Joe. Throughout
the book are tidbits of baseball history as well as comparisons
between baseball and Yuri's life.
can only imagine how stressed any mother would be, not knowing
if they would outlive their child. Richman noted, "I
could not imagine. Yuri's mom, Katya, desperately wanted to
protect her child. Think how worrisome it is for a mother
to think her child's heart could stop beating and not to be
able to see any signs. There was this powerful scene in the
book where Yuri is sleeping in his crib, and she is hovering
over him to make sure his chest goes up/down. I interviewed
people who had children with rare heart defects, and they
never wanted to leave their children for even a minute. Another
scene has Maggie staying with Yuri so Katya can get some rest.
As a mother, I kept thinking Yuri was my child."
Richman is known for her historical novels, she ventured into
the contemporary genre. But she makes sure to include the
historical significance of the era by delving into such topics
as the Chernobyl disaster, baseball, music, and a mention
of the Holocaust. Trying to show Yuri that people always need
hope, Maggie has him write a letter to his future eighteen-year-old
self. She precedes it by explaining to him how children in
the Terezin Concentration Camp wrote poetry and drawings even
when starving and freezing. Maggie came to realize that “a
teacher’s job is to make children feel safe, to make
them believe their ability is boundless…to use their
minds-and their imagination-in their darkest hour.”
Yuri’s letter and the drawings/poetry of the Holocaust
children sparked a creative dialogue where they were able
to imagine the possibility of a better life.
This is a heartening tale of the influence a teacher has on
a student, but also how a student can impact a teacher. Richman
makes people think about the importance of life and how a
child born can make such an impression on those adults around
him, even for a short time.
Reviews of other titles by this author