The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Due to a last minute change of plans, Cat and her younger brother Chicken must spend 3 weeks of their summer vacation with grandparents whom they have never met. They live on an island in North Carolina, which is at once an idyllic setting, but also presents challenges to Cat who must manage Chicken special needs, including his tendency to run off. As Cat struggles with her brother’s behavior, she draws closer to her grandparents and to other children on the island. Through these relationships, she discovers new things about herself, but also wounds that hopefully her time on the island can help heal.
My Take: This is a strong first novel by Gillian McDunn and makes a respectable entry into the canon of realistic juvenile literature. The central story of the book is Cat’s growth and change over the summer and her struggle to understand the things that have pulled her family apart in the past. McDunn makes a strong argument that the youngest members are sometimes the best ones to offer an opportunity for a family’s fresh start. The author is adept at exploring several heavy themes — such as the inherent loneliness in care taking, the way that bullies themselves are victimized, the need to control, etc. — without making this into an ‘issues book.’ I would happily recommend this to any reader around 11 years who is ready to consider some heavy themes.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The book Caterpillar Summer is in part inspired by McDunn’s relationship with her brother who multiple disabilities.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Marty Preston is an 11 year old who lives in the hill country of West Virginia. While out exploring the countryside, he encounters a beagle who follows him home. Marty immediately takes to the animal and names it Shiloh. He is soon disappointed when he learns that Shiloh belongs to Judd Travers, a neighbor who abuses his animals. Marty’s struggle over the ownership of Shiloh forces him to face questions about right and wrong, loyalty, and friendship.
My Take: Shiloh won the Newberry Medal in 1992 and the quality of Naylor’s writing certainly justifies this award. As I was reading the novel, I found myself wishing that I had read this book years earlier in my library career. The story of a boy and his dog is a well worn theme in juvenile literature, but Naylor’s handling of the material never seems stale or cliche. As readers we immediately appreciate the relationship between Marty and Shiloh and we know that it must endure. Our hearts are invested. Naylor deserves credit for rounding out the character of Judd Travers, a man who has himself experienced abuse. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for the feel of a classic story.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her biography on her website, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was making ‘books’ as far back as the 4th and 5th grade. She would write on scratch paper, draw pictures, and then staple it all together.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Delsie enjoys so many things about her life on Cape Cod: the fishing, the storms that roll in off the ocean, and the close knit community of her small neighborhood. Still, she can’t help but think about her mom who left her years before with her grandmother and what the reasons may have been for this abandonment. Her relationships are also changing as her good friend Brandi begins hanging out with an older, mean girl. Delsie finds companionship with a boy new to the Cape that summer who seems to harbor as much hurt inside himself as she does. As new information comes forth about her mother, Delsie finds that she must choose whether to hold on to pain and resentment or to focus on the smaller blessings in her life.
My Take: I found Shouting At The Rain to be a solid entry in the field of realistic fiction for young readers. As an adult reader, I enjoyed learning about life on Cape Cod and how the ‘Capers’ and the tourist get along. Hunt has a talent for conveying blue collar life without making it overly sentimental or pushing it too far. One character, for example, must move with his family into a campground every summer because their landlord rents their house out to tourists for more money. It’s an indignity that is mentioned only a few times, but it really serves as an example of what Delsie and the people in her community grapple with. I would recommend this book to any younger reader interested in a book on changing friendships and life in the summer.
One Interesting Note About The Author: As she notes on her website, Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s first forays into creative writing were after the passing of her brother, who died shortly before his 4th birthday. She “wrote songs about him for years–songs about when he was alive and songs speculating where he went after he died. I had always imagined him sitting on a cloud watching me.” She admits that not a day goes by when she does not think about him.