Jip: His Story by Katherine Paterson
Jip is a quick novel that packs, if not a punch, at least quite a few surprises at the end. I read it this summer and think that it could work for some Junior Projects—but get the teacher’s OK first as s/he may tell you that the book is too short or easy. Outside of the length of the book, the theme is perfect as a fictional starter for research into this period of American history.
The novel takes place in Vermont in the 1850s. As far as Jip knows, he fell off a wagon as a baby in 1847 and was found on the road and taken to the town poor farm as an orphan. He has swarthy (dark) skin which reminds the town folk of a gypsy—thus the name Jip. Though the caretaker of the poor farm and his wife are too lazy to make the farm work, they have Jip who is hardworking, has an unusual ability to deal with animals (an animal ‘whisperer,’ if your will), and is very nearly running the farm himself. Nevertheless, his life is a sad one; he wonders always how someone could have a baby fall off a wagon and not notice, not return to claim it. His secret longing is to be claimed by loving parents.
Jip finds a friend in Put (Putnam Nelson), a ‘lunatic’ for whom Jip builds a cage. Put is an intelligent man and helpful on the farm when he isn’t experiencing a spell of delirium. Eventually, Jip also has the opportunity to attend school, where he discovers that he’s an avid reader. When the truth of Jip’s parentage begins to surface, it is his teacher and her sweetheart who try to help him.