Monday, July 17, 2006


Meet Ryan Coolidge, his father is in jail, his mother insists he needs to visit, and all Ryan feels is shame. "How could you not feel shame when you'd seen your father stuffed into the back seat of a police car?" Known for his series featuring Miami lawyer, Jack swatch, Leapholes is author James Grippando's first juvenile/young adult book. In it he explains the vagaries of the law and justice to his audience in a way that helps makes sense of the issues as they are presented.

One afternoon while out riding his bike, Ryan is hit by an ambulance and taken to the hospital. After faking amnesia, wanting to be anonymous and tired of being infamous, Ryan tries to leave the hospital when a fire breaks out. He escapes with a group of five other people by stumbling mistakenly into a top secret facility where they are all immediately infected with "BODS" - Blood Oxygen Depletion syndrome. The good news is, there is a prototype vaccine that while never tested is thought to cure the disease. The bad news is, there are six people needing the vaccine and only five vials. A decision is made, with everyone in agreement, to draw lots and the person choosing the short straw will die.

Ryan's decision to take the vaccine vials and mix them together to share has amazing repercussions as he is subsequently forced to defend himself from charges of manslaughter in front of a jury. Assigned a lawyer, Hezekiah, Ryan is given the opportunity to research his case via the use of leapholes. Unknown by Ryan, Hezekiah is a member of a secret society, Legal Eagles, who work to close law loopholes. Earned by closing inappropriate loopholes within the law, leapholes are a way to travel into law and learn first hand of the realistic concerning historically relevant court cases. Included are cases such as the William Brown (who lives, who dies) and Dred Scott ("the brood follows the dam") dealing with issues of slavery, the underground railroad, and abolitionists. Through the travels, Ryan learns that pleading guilty, or being charged with guilt, is not always what it seems.

Grippando deals with these cases in a simple and interesting way that allows a reader to understand more than simple facts presented in cases. By inserting his characters into the time period it is easier to see how law shaped what happened historically. Included within this arc were discussion questions for classroom use, notes from the author concerning the historical accuracy of the cases presented, and an interesting afterward section with information from famous authors and lawyers regarding their decisions to enter into law practice. This would be a great selection for a read-aloud corresponding to a social studies or history unit on the civil war and slavery.

I found the case of the William Brown interesting as the issues discussed are being debated in college level classes on ethics. Several years ago I had a student worker upset by a similar class discussion:

An airplane is running out of fuel and the only way to make it safely to the airport is to lighten the load. All of the luggage has been tossed from the plane and the pilot determines he has to banish passengers to get everyone to safety. Upon landing, is he a hero or a murderer?

If college students were debating this with vigor, imagine how younger children would react.

Grippando is participating in a group blog, Naked Authors.

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1 comment:

James said...

Since Leapholes launches this month (September), I did a web search and found your blog . . . thank you for mentioning Leapholes. As you say, it is my first young adult novel, and after 12 novels for grown ups, it's the closest I've come in a a long time to experiencing the excitement of a "fist novel." I'm hoping readers will be just as excited -- the feedback from children so far has been fantastic. All the best, James Grippando