In February of 1929, life as she has known it changes for 12-year-old Piper Sinclair after her mother’s sudden death from pneumonia. Her kind-hearted teacher, Miss Oliver, gives her a diary as a means to continue her creative flair for writing when Piper goes to live aboard the S.S. City of Atlanta with her father, the captain of the Chesapeake Bay steamboat. She calls her diary, Dorie, short for Dorothea, and proceeds to write life into her, with every scratch of her pen. Soon Piper comes to think of Dorie as her closest friend, the only one she can talk to with absolute honesty. When she suspects Dorie is being read by a snooping ship’s steward, she finds a hideaway for the diary in the hole behind a loose panel in her cabin door.
Eighty-six years later in October of 2015, life has changed drastically for 12-year-old Garrett Stevens, whose Army Sergeant dad has been injured in Afghanistan and is now in a military hospital in Washington, DC. He and his mother come to live with his grandparents in their Maryland home to be close to the hospital. When Garrett slams his bedroom door in anger—a door salvaged from the old S.S. City of Atlanta—the panel falls off and he discovers Piper’s long-lost diary. Garrett begins reading, immediately drawn into Piper’s story, and comes to believe his hope for his dad’s recovery is somehow entwined with Piper’s hopes for her future.
That Smudge of Smoke spans the years from 1929 to 2015 in a middle grade novel about these two 12-year-olds navigating crucial changes in their lives. The diary, known as Dorie, becomes the vital link between Piper and Garrett, and soon takes on the unexpected role of narrator, a compelling character in itself. This is a multi-generational story of hope, friendship, family, and of the far-reaching influence of history and music.
Published by BeaLu Books
Here’s what Connie Green, Education Professor Emeritus, Appalachian State University, has to say to teachers about That Smudge of Smoke:
“That Smudge of Smoke transports readers back nearly 100 years to a time when steamboats traveled Chesapeake Bay, carrying freight, passengers, and mail to isolated communities. When twelve-year-old Piper’s mother dies, she is suddenly uprooted from her home and living on a steamboat with her father, the captain. The story is filled with historical events, such as the crash of the New York stock exchange, that readers experience vicariously through Piper’s eyes. We also learn about books popular at the time (The Boxcar Children Series to Jane Eyre) that Piper’s teacher introduces to her. Aboard the steamboat, Piper observes sea birds and the phases of the moon, piquing readers’ interest in science. A sudden twist in the plot brings the reader into the twenty-first century with a new character, Garrett, who is experiencing a loss of his own. Hemingway deftly joins the two stories and even includes a surprise character to appeal to readers’ imagination.
“In addition to many connections to history and science in That Smudge of Smoke, teachers will find it valuable in teaching literary devices, character development, setting, and other connections to teaching standards for literature. The greatest value of the book lies in its ability to draw middle grade students into a compelling story with authentic characters, an adventurous setting, and a bit of mystery. If your goal is to inspire students to become lifelong readers who pick up books for pleasure and information, That Smudge of Smoke will help you reach that goal.”