Tag Archives: classic

Junonia

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.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

I’d say that The Penderwicks might be the perfect fictional family to spend a little time with when the real world feels crappy and overwhelming. There’s something about Birdsall’s blend of sweet sisterly affection, family melodrama, gentle humour, and happy endings, that can make a girl feel hopeful again. Sure, some might say that these books stretch belief because they seem too good to be true, perhaps a little precious in places, but you know what, sometimes everyone needs a little too good to be true. Sign me up.

This third book in the series follows most of the Penderwick family as they head to Point Mouette for a summer vacation. Rosalind is visiting a friend in New Jersey, and Mr. Penderwick is off on his honeymoon, so Skye must take on the role of the Oldest Available Penderwick, much to her distress. In preparation, she makes a huge list of things to remember in order to take the best possible care of her littlest sister, Batty. Of course, this list gets destroyed, leaving Skye to struggle along and figure out how to be responsible by herself. All three of the sisters come into their own through their new experiences. Growing up is bumpy, but it’s all so much nicer when you have sisters you can depend on.

As with the past Penderwick stories, the adventures here are the kinds of adventures that real kids have, not very big, but seeming to be big to those involved. I like that aspect of Birdsall’s writing very much. She is incredibly successful at making what is important and exciting and challenging for kids come across as important and exciting enough to propel her plot forward and keep the reader invested. It’s also wonderful how this author succeeds in crafting each of the sisters as fully their own person, three-dimensional, with unique traits and voice without making any of them seem forced or hard to believe or over-written.

Yes, there is a pretty big coincidence at the heart of this story, but you know what, I’m okay with that, and I think that old and new Penderwick fans will be too. Ms. Birdsall writes with such grace, creating a wonderfully classic world in these books, that somehow I think I could believe in just about anything she put on the page.

Perfect for wrapping you up in warmth when life gets tough, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette will make you feel good about life, the universe, and everything.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is published by Knopf.