Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer


Marion Dane Bauer

Candlewick Press, Fiction, May 18, 2021

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Summer vacation, Visiting mom, Northern Minnesota wilderness, Imaginary dog, Forgiveness

Publisher’s Synopsis

Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine — Ben’s imaginary dog. Even when Ben feels like his dad doesn’t understand him, or Sunshine, he knows his dad loves him. But with his mom, Ben isn’t so sure. She left one day when he was three and he’s never really understood why. He often wonders if he did something that made her suddenly leave. He can’t remember her face. The only thing he remembers is that she made big animal pancakes for him.

This summer, Ben will be spending a whole week with his mom in the wilderness and he’s determined to find answers.  She lives by herself in a messy cabin without electricity or phone on a remote island in northern Minnesota, something that is way out of Ben’s comfort zone. His mom isn’t afraid of anything. Ben is a “what if kid,” afraid of the dark, heights and getting lost. But Ben will learn to camp, paddle a canoe, explore, use a stinky outhouse and confront his fears. And will he ever be able to ask his mom BIG questions. Will she want to come home and be his mom? When a forest fire threatens his mom’s home, Ben finally realizes everything he’s been trying to forget and learns how to forgive his mom — and himself. 

Why I like this book

Marion Dane Bauer has penned a heartfelt story that is filled with hope as Ben reconnects with his mother for the first time. The narrative is lyrical and completely character driven. And there is a big dose of love and forgiveness.

The characters are believable and authentic. Ben’s fears and worries are reflections of the anger he holds deep within. As is his need to create an imaginary dog to comfort him on his journey. Bauer keeps the reader guessing why Ben’s mother left her family until the end. His mom is physically strong and likable. And she asks Ben a lot of questions about Sunshine and compares him to a guardian spirit who watches over Ben. She never tells him he’s too old to have an imaginary dog. We do learn that his mother was abused as a child and has her own demons. And Sunshine feels so real in the story, that dog lovers will find this story interesting.

Readers who enjoy the outdoors, will find Ben and his mother’s exploration of this pristine an remote island appealing — like Ben’s first encounter with the lake’s loons and a mother bear and her baby. The week is one big adventure for Ben and he discovers he can be resourceful and brave. This is a good summer read for middle grade readers.

Marion Dane Bauer is an award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young people, including the Newbery Honor Book On My Honor and The Stuff of Stars. Marion Dane Bauer lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

19 thoughts on “Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

  1. Absent moms is a topic that needs to be addressed. It is more common than one would think and is very confusing for children. I also like the idea of spending time in the wilderness and learning how to overcome fears. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention.


    • Intriguing read. When Ben meets his mom she really appears to be an intriguing person. Unlike his father, who has trouble with Ben’s imaginary dog, the mom asks him questions about Sunshine and includes him in the events. She isn’t a cuddly mother, because she’s being cautious with Ben. She welcomes his questions. And the ending is surprising.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while, but keep putting it off. You make it sound really appealing and now I want to find out what happens with Ben and his mom. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I might have seen this book once or twice, but I didn’t really know what it was about, so I appreciate you talking about it today! Sunshine sounds like a very powerful story, and the imaginary-dog aspect also reminds me a little bit of Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. Thanks so much for the great review!


  4. Perfect selection I need for some upcoming Summer reading. The family dynamics you described are too good to pass up. Most stories of this type of this type have the dad as the one who has been missing. I like the MC is trying to overcome his fears. Many kids will relate. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.


  5. I was just flipping through my copy of Swallows and Amazons, remembering how much I loved those books, and the cover of this one gives me the same feeling. An intriguing plot in a lake cabin setting: sounds like a perfect summer read!


  6. What an interesting story line. It is certainly appealing, and you’ve made me curious about the suprise ending. Now that’s a good review. Thank you.


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