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.

Pictures from our Vacation

Pictures from our Vacation

Lynne Rae Perkins, author and illustrator

Greenwillow Books, 2007, Fiction

Suitable for:  Grade 2-5

Themes:  Vacation, Photography, Family Reunion, Memories, Souvenirs

Opening/Synopsis“Just before we got in the car to go on our vacation, our mother said, ‘Oh, I almost forgot!’  From her bag she pulled out a little camera for me, and one for my brother.  Our mom gave us notebooks to stick them in.  ‘They will be souvenirs of our vacation,’ she said.”  The family is traveling by car to visit the farm where their grandparents are spending the summer.  The brother and sister chronicle their trip.  The trip starts out rather boring, a long drive, snapshots of feet,  the back of Dad’s head, a hill and a lot of rain.  When they arrive, their grandparents are waiting to greet them.  They soon learn there will be a memorial service for their great-aunt.  Other cars arrive filled with family members.  There are a lot of cousins to play with, trees to climb, and games to play.

Why I like this book:  It is a great idea to let kids chronicle their trip with pictures.  The trip is a more realistic portrayal of real vacations, boredom, disappointment, fun and family love.   But the brother and sister discover the best memories are the ones they make with family and hold in their minds.  Lynne Rae Perkins has written and illustrated an engaging story for children with a unique message.   The illustrations are in bright water colors.  She won a Newbery Medal for her book Criss CrossResources:  Give your kids cameras, a notebook, pens and crayons and encourage them to make a vacation book, or a book about their summer.  Great exercise in taking pictures and writing a summer story.