Sunshine by Marion Dane Bauer

Sunshine

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.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana’s Way Home

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Grandmother, Curses, Abandonment, Forgiveness, Friendship, Humor, Hope

Synopsis:

When Louisiana Elefante’s overbearing granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave their Florida home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. Granny has told Louisiana about the family curse and how it has been passed down through generations of her family.

But this time, things are different. Granny never intends for them to return and says they have a “date with destiny.” Separated from her cat and best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. Once they cross the line into Georgia, Granny isn’t feeling well and Louisiana has to drive the car, with a minor mishap. With Granny howling in the back seat about her teeth, Louisiana is desperate  to find a dentist and takes an exit to Richford, Georgia.

After Granny’s teeth are all removed, Louisiana finds a place for Granny to recuperate. She is feverish and can’t eat. Louisiana finagles a room at a motel called the Good Night, Sleep Tight. While Granny heals, Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of this small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy (Burke) with a crow on his shoulder. One day, Granny deserts Louisiana and drives out of her life. She leaves behind a letter that explains difficult truths about Louisiana’s life, making her wonder, “Who am I?” She worries that she is destined only for good-byes, but she is hopeful that maybe this town can break that curse.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, will be thrilled with her latest novel about Louisiana Elfante’s story. It is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and humorous. The plot is intriguing, especially the mystery about the terrible family curse. Readers will get to know Louisiana in a gentle and tender way. They will learn about her secrets and of her abandonment. Where there is pain, there is an opportunity for Louisiana to grow and find love. She is a resilient and spunky character worth getting to know and love.

I like DiCamillo’s first person narrative. Louisiana’s voice is strong and determined. She begins the first chapter with “I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will know.” It was a joy to experience the story narrative through Louisiana’s vulnerable and wise character.

DiCamillo is a gifted storyteller who challenges readers with big questions about what is home, family, forgiveness and belonging. There is so much to love about Louisiana’s story. It’s a winner! You can visit DiCamillo at her website.

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts for 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.

*Advanced reading copy provided by publisher.