Compelling and charming! When Cat and her brother get dropped for three weeks at their OTHER grandparents’ house — the ones they’ve never even met! — both of them grow in ways they couldn’t have predicted.
On a North Carolina island, Cat learns some big things: 1) how to fish 2) how to get silent-type Grandpa to talk 3) how to see a bully for more than his meanness 4) how to let her special needs brother fend for himself a little 5) how to eat hushpuppies!
McDunn writes with on-point honesty and a knack for capturing real kid thoughts. The mom-written books within the book add another lens through which both readers and the characters themselves can see the family dynamics. Packed with human insight and tenderness, this book is sure to be a favorite of anyone who loves to see a family knit itself back together, while enjoying bike rides, mini-golf, and hot chocolate!
Find Caterpillar Summer on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40046075-caterpillar-summer?from_search=true#other_reviews
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Waiting for Unicorns by Beth Hautala
A summer in the arctic isn’t just exotic, it’s dangerous. For Talia, it’s also the place where she will learn more about herself than she expected. Somewhere between making wishes and making a friend, between mourning her mother’s death and mourning her father’s absence, between bird-watching and whale-searching, Talia starts to heal. Written in an immersive, literary style, this book gives glimpses of Inuit life, the arctic spring, and a girl whose life appears frozen, but is about to flow.
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“One chapter,” I said to myself. “Okay, two.” In this way, I read Stacy McAnulty’s middle grade novel in two sittings!
What I enjoyed:
References to pi and Fibonacci, plus a main character who calculates quicker than a calculator makes for a brain-tickling theme. Better than that, math is used to save shelter dogs, and the book reveals how math is all around us. Better than even THAT is the use our main character makes of math. Rather than being merely the author’s decoration, math is the MC’s coping mechanism for anxiety. Sometimes math gets in her way, but mostly Lucy Callahan uses her gift as a way to grasp this ungraspable world. Naturally, her inner journey hinges on going where no formula has gone before.
Though Lucy starts out with only online math friends, her chances of making an IRL (in-real-life) friend increase exponentially when she’s forced to attend a public middle school. Though it’s rocky for a long time, and not without anger and tears, caring about a couple of people and having them care about you turns out to be worth it. This book focuses on Lucy’s new relationships, and I appreciate that one is inter-racial and the other inter-class-al, with both feeling natural.
The reader sees at once that Lucy’s gift is also her curse. A lightning strike left her a math savant, but also a “freak.” She hides her talent at school, but we can’t be who we aren’t for long. Life drags her into facing one fear after another — her phobia of germs, her wish to stay with her online math peers rather than plain kids, and her aversion to smelly, lick-y dogs.
- The Writing
First person works well here to bring the reader into Lucy’s mind, which is an interesting place! We experience her OCD first-hand and understand the psychological costs to not completing her routines. The plot moves along well, keeping the character arc and action arc connected, with action pushing Lucy’s emotional journey forward. The mean girls make their appearances, but they don’t dominate the scenes. The adults facilitate, but they don’t take over. The friends have their mini-arcs, growing and changing, too, underscoring the book’s hopeful tone.
Consider reading this one yourself and then handing it off immediately to the nearest 10-14-year-old!
Meet Piper Perish, up close and personal! This first person, journal-style book gives the reader a front row seat to Piper’s brain, and that’s a fun place to be because she’s an artist, a teen finding her way in a new city, and a gal who is discovering that she can make meaning, not just money — which is good because she has a lot more meaning than money!
Young adults will key into Piper’s search for authenticity in the fashion world of New York City. Plus, it’s fun to see what everyone is wearing! They’ll also celebrate her triumphant assertion of her own identity when she stops letting others use her talents and takes the steering wheel of her own artistic life. The romantic subplot works better than most because the not-the-one guy becomes a friend. Readers may want to check out the book preceding this one, Piper Perish, but it’s not required.
For NYC buffs, this book holds a special treat. As Piper explores the city — from the furniture left on curbs to the Empire State Building to homeless folks to the iconic public library (remember the lions?) — she sketches and creates a hashtag, #NYSeen, for all the spots she’s seen. These come in handy later, but you’ll have to read the book to see how!
I enjoyed my peek into Piper’s first months in NY, as her initiative and creativity grow and she comes into her own as an adult. Piper’s voice is one I’m going to miss now that the book has ended. Her ups and downs are fun to follow because her journal (the book in our hands) keeps her honest. She admits to faults and conflicting feelings as well as confessing her hopes and values. Ultimately, Piper succeeds in matching her insides to her outsides, as she says, bringing the best of herself off the page and into the world.