Kevin Henkes’ Junonia has been on my list for ages, and when my eye chanced upon it at the bookstore last week it felt like fate. Right now, at the end of a turning point summer in our house, might be the perfect moment to read it. Before I get to the story, I have to mention that as an object, this is such a pretty book. You just want to hold it and gaze at it. It has weight, the right paper, a striking cover, simple and evocative illustrations to open each chapter. It’s just an elegant package. It begs to be adorned with a shimmery ribbon and placed in the hands of a turning-ten birthday girl.
Junonia opens as only child, Alice Rice, returns to the beach cottage where she and her parents have always spent her birthday. This is an important year because she will be turning double digits: 10. She wants everything – the beach, her party, the whole summer – to be perfect. But when special friends don’t return, and her Aunt Kate brings along a new boyfriend and his difficult daughter Mallory, it seems that nothing is going to be right, let alone perfect. Woven into this is Alice’s wish to find a rare junonia shell for her collection. For the first time, she feels disappointment creeping into her beloved beach vacation.
This is a quintessential “summer that everything changed” middle grade novel, but it is graceful and remarkable because it is so understated. Henkes conveys Alice’s emotions with beautiful subtlety and truth. There are lovely poetic details throughout, particularly in his descriptions of the natural world. Kids will certainly appreciate and connect with Alice’s devotion to tradition and her disappointment and difficulty when what she loves and expects becomes something new. This is a book about simple pleasures and feeling safe and loved in your family, no matter how small it might be.
Junonia is a delicate work of art, and, like its namesake, it leaves you feeling lucky to have found it.
Junonia is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.