This was a random library find for me the other day. I haven’t read any of Coleen Murtagh Paratore’s other titles, but I know of her Wedding Planner’s Daughter series. It was the cover that grabbed me, and it’s no wonder! My well-honed Julia Denos radar is clearly at work. I love her art (she’s got oodles and oodles of talent, that one). The brightness of the colours, the fab pink shoes and the quirkily-named title character all said “sweetness” to me. I was right. There is some serious sweetness going on in this slim novel for younger readers, with enough struggle to be thought-provoking and to inspire conversation.
Sunny is as bright and positive as her name. Her mother likes to remind her that “the sun shined so bright and long the day (Sunny) was born, the stars got jealous and complained to God.” She tries to see the good in the world, in the people around her and in herself. It might not always come easily, but Sunny is willing to work at it. She loves holidays more than anything and she’s troubled by the fact that January and August are lacking in the holiday department, so she starts planning holidays with particular kid appeal to fill in the gaps. Sunny’s life isn’t perfect in every way. Riverview towers, her apartment building, might be full of many interesting and warm-spirited people, but the neighbourhood leaves a lot to be desired, what with the litter, the straggly trees, the chain-link fences and the polluted river. Sunny’s dad is in jail and she only gets to visit him the first Sunday of every month. Her mom works long hours as a hotel maid and then fills up her nights taking care of Sunny and taking college courses. Still, Sunny’s home is full of love and creativity and wisdom. The novel is a gentle portrait of a little girl who faces some hard situations with natural grace, humour and hope.
I read Sunny Holiday in one sitting. It was Sunny’s voice that drew me in, her poetic way of seeing the world. I loved the first chapter called “Dandelions.” Here’s one of the nicest bits:
“We don’t have a park or a yard, either, just one long, dirty-gray cement sidewalk. But that doesn’t stop a dandelion. A dandelion seed is smarty-pants-smart. That seed sails off on a wispy balloon, riding free on a summer breeze, search-search-searching for a home. It knows for sure it will find one. All it sees is sidewalk, sidewalk, sidewalk. Does it give up? No, it does not. That little seed keeps searching until it spots a crack. “Whoopee! Whoopee! Whoopee!” it shouts, and dives in for a happy landing. But then that seed realizes it’s all alone and sits there shaking, not sure just what to do next. Does it give up? No it does not. It sends down a skin-skinny raggedy root, far below, where no one can see, look-look-looking for dirt it can trust. that may take a very long time.”
Each little chapter is so short and yet there is a lot of emotion packed into every tiny package. I was reminded of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (gosh I love that book!) There’s the same true kid’s perspective in this book and in places, the same heart-squeezing effect as Sunny struggles against the circumstances of her life. My only complaint is that in places, Sunny came off a little Pollyanna-ish. You almost couldn’t believe that she would be so persistently positive. This is a small thing however. Mostly, you’ll just wish you could manage to see the world the way she does, always looking for good things and working to make changes to improve the rest. This would be an excellent title for use in the classroom, to initiate conversations around inclusion, compassion and creativity. It handles the more challenging background issues carefully, with just the right amount of information for a younger reader. Perfect for Grade 4, I should think.
Sunny Holiday is published by Scholastic Press.