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
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.