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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Review: The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

The Seventh Most Important Thing
by Shelley Pearsall
September 8, 2015
Penguin Random House

It was a bitterly cold day when Arthur T. Owens grabbed a brick and hurled it at the trash picker. Arthur had his reasons, and the brick hit the Junk Man in the arm, not the head. But none of that matters to the judge—he is ready to send Arthur to juvie for the foreseeable future. Amazingly, it’s the Junk Man himself who offers an alternative: 120 hours of community service . . . working for him.

Arthur is given a rickety shopping cart and a list of the Seven Most Important Things: glass bottles, foil, cardboard, pieces of wood, lightbulbs, coffee cans, and mirrors. He can’t believe it—is he really supposed to rummage through people’s trash? But it isn’t long before Arthur realizes there’s more to the Junk Man than meets the eye, and the “trash” he’s collecting is being transformed into something more precious than anyone could imagine. .

Inspired by the work of American folk artist James Hampton, award-winning author Shelley Pearsall has crafted an affecting and redemptive novel about discovering what shines within us all, even when life seems full of darkness.


"Luminescent..." - Kirkus Reviews, starred

"A recommended purchase for all libraries." - School Library Journal, starred

"A moving exploration of how there is often so much more than meets the eye." - Booklist, starred

Junior Library Guild selection 

"It's not often I finish books in one sitting...but I could not stop reading The Seventh Most Important Thing. It's that good!" - Timothy

"Warning: this book will stick with you. I loved every minute of this story..." -

"I loved this book. I loved, loved, loved it." -

James Hampton's breathtaking art

In a fit of grief and rage, 13 year old Arthur Owens throws a brick at the Junk Man. Luckily, the brick hits the trash collector’s arm and not his head. Arthur is sent to juvie for three weeks and the judge is keen on making that sentence longer, but a surprising person saves Arthur from such a fate. James Hampton- the Junk Man himself- asks that Arthur be required to complete 120 hours of service working for him. Arthur finds himself collecting junk (the seven most important things) for Hampton and soon discovers that Hampton is turning that junk into something extraordinary.

Shelley Pearsall’s The Seventh Most Important Thing is a tender and thoughtful historical fiction middle-grade book, loosely based on the story and work of a very real man. James Hampton was a real folk artist in the 1960’s whose unusual and fascinating “junk” art has captivated people for decades. In The Seventh Most Important Thing, Pearsall intertwines the creation of Hampton’s work with the fictional, yet moving story of one boy’s grief, downfall, and glorious redemption.

Set in the turbulent 1960’s in Washington D.C.,  Pearsall forgoes focusing on the major current events of that time, instead choosing to explore the thought-provoking and delicate turbulence surrounding the relatable young Arthur Owens. Arthur and James Hampton’s separate, yet powerfully connected stories, are full of so many themes (grief, regret, friendship, redemption, forgiveness, etc), that Pearsall captures and displays wonderfully throughout the book. The Seventh Most Important Thing is a quieter, slower paced middle-grade book, but this tone works effectively for the story being told and the characters and emotional framework will keep readers turning pages.

Pearsall’s characters shine as brightly as the tin foil wrapped pieces of Hampton’s art! From the fascinating Junk Man himself to relatable Arthur, Arthur’s family, his endearing friend Squeak, his no-nonsense probation officer, and the oddly charming Groovy Jim, Pearsall’s characters are refreshing, honest, memorable, and crafted with authenticity.

my final thoughts: The Seventh Most Important Thing is an emotional book and has its heart-breaking moments, but overall it left me inspired and hopeful. I think Arthur and James’ stories will encourage a great deal of thoughtful discussion among middle-grade readers.

4/5 yummy cupcakes

A former teacher and museum historian, SHELLEY PEARSALL is now a full-time author. The idea for this novel began many years ago when she first saw outsider artist James Hampton’s amazing work at the Smithsonian. She was disappointed that so little is known about Hampton and was intrigued that his work was brought to light by anonymous sources. It was the perfect foundation for this redemptive, inspiring historical novel. Her first novel,Trouble Don’t Last, won the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction. To learn more about the author and her work, visit

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