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Kapaun by Roy Wenzl & Travis Heying
3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Wichita 1930-2000 by Jay Price & Keith Wondra
5. Rake by Scott Phillips
6. The Yard by Alex
7. Help Thanks Wow by
8. Let's Explore Diabetes with
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"Summer of the Gypsy Moths" by Sara Pennypacker
I am a huge fan of Sara Pennypacker's "Clementine" beginning chapter books. They're everything a book for first and second graders should be: fun, smart, well-written, with a main character you can't help but love. So, when I found out that she had a book for older kids--the 9 to 12 crowd--I was excited, hopeful that it would be just as wonderful as Clementine is.
Stella hasn't had an easy life. She's currently living with her Great-aunt Louise, because since her grandmother died, she and her mother have been wandering aimless from city to city until the government finally stepped in and took Stella from her mom due to neglect. Now, she and Louise--and another foster child, Angel--are hitting it off in their little house on Cape Cod, readying for the summer season with their garden, blueberry bushes, and the vacationers in the four little cottages they manage.
That is, until Louise dies. (That's not a spoiler: it happens in the first chapter.)
Stella and Angel panic: if they call people to come and take Louise away, then the same people, the ones who put them in the foster-care system in the first place, will take them away, send them to homes that might not be so nice. So the two of them make a pact: they'll bury Louise in the back yard and run the cottages as if Louise were just injured and unable to help out, take the money they get as tips and save it until they have enough to go somewhere.
It's all quite vague--very much the way 12-year-olds would think--and they don't do everything perfectly. Thankfully, even though it's one of those "bad mother" books, it doesn't ever seem either overly desperate and sad or overly implausible. Because of her situation with her mother, Stella is more grown up than she otherwise would be, and is able to take charge, with the help of Heloise's advice columns. Granted, I'm not sure two 12-year-old girls could go four weeks (which is how long they end up faking everyone out) without someone noticing that the responsible adult is never around, but somehow they do. But, there are consequences: they end up going hungry much of the time because there isn't a grocery store nearby, and they don't have money for food anyway. It's a small thing, but it's a nice touch.
I've been trying to pinpoint what I liked about this book. The lying bothered, of course; as did the far-fetched situation. But, in the end, I liked it for its simplicity and its heart. Pennypacker's writing is simple and direct without being simplistic or pandering, which is part of the reason I like her Clementine books. It holds true for this: Stella and Angel are opposites, but they learn to work together. Problems are solved. Ocean is enjoyed. There are moments of loneliness and hardship, but it's never overly dramatic. It's got that classic feel, without being old-fashioned.
The other thing I liked was that it was a true middle grade novel: there had to be bad parents and dead great-aunts so that the two girls could shine and grow and learn and develop. It's a humble adventure, but it's still an adventure: learning that they really do need people to take care of them, and what the meaning of home and friendship are.In the end, even with the drawbacks, it's a sweet little summer read.