The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
Summer Miyamoto is positive that her family is completely out of luck. Nothing is going right for them at all. Her parents had to return to Japan because of a family emergency, leaving her behind with her grandparents and little brother, Jaz. Now the four of them are heading out to do harvest season for the first time without her parents. Summer and Jaz have to get all of their homework assignments, so they really don’t have the time off. Summer is also expected to help her grandmother cook for the others working on the harvest, so she is very busy. But she isn’t so busy that she doesn’t notice the very cute son of the people they work for or the problems that her brother has making friends. She is also worried about her grandparents from the pain in her grandmother’s back that incapacitates her at times to the exhaustion that her grandfather seems to be suffering from. All of this weighs on Summer who just wants the bad luck to end but it may take Summer being something her grandmother would not approve of to save the family in the end.
Kadohata has created a very compelling story of a family who travels the United States harvesting wheat with giant combines. She offers just enough details about the machinery and the process for readers to understand it which helps make the work much more understandable. But this book is far more about this particular family and its dynamics. The grandparents offer a unique mix of sage advice and confusing world views. Jaz, the younger brother, is a great example of a very smart child who has almost no social skills. All of these characters are written as complete people, not ever stereotypical.
Summer herself is equally well drawn. She is at a confusing time in life in general, being a pre-teen who is starting to notice boys. That is complicated by her grandmother’s old-fashioned take on boys and girls as well as her own responsibility for her family that puts her in situations that require her to be more adult and less child.
A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
This book will sweep you up like a breath of brisk autumn air. Miss Maple is a little woman who spends her entire summer searching for seeds that have not gotten planted in the spring. She brings them back to her maple tree and nurses them back to strength. She washes them off, warns them to take care because they are so small, takes them on field trips to learn about being a seed, and reads them bedtime stories. In winter they all burrow down together and fill the time with songs and stories. Then when spring arrives, the seeds learn to dance in the rain and sink into muddy ground. In May, it is time for the seeds to find the places they will grow, so Miss Maple launches them off. Miss Maple then starts her journey with the seeds all over again, heading off on the back of a bluebird to find another year’s worth of stranded seeds. Lovely and warm, this picture book is a joyous celebration of the seasons and the plants around us.
Wheeler has created a tiny motherly figure in Miss Maple, someone who loves and cares just for the good of the earth. As the book progresses, she becomes almost a Mother Earth figure as her world turns with the seasons. Wheeler’s writing is filled with wonderful small moments and details. Miss Maple reads bedtime stories “by firefly light” and during the winter her animal neighbors share “supplies of hot maple syrup, old corn husks, and juicy fruit rinds.”
Her illustrations show that same attention to detail. This small world is filled with little touches that make it come alive. The frogs in the nearby pond have a house in a log complete with front door and paned windows. The seeds all sleep in small, cozy beds that are perfectly designed for seeds their size. Then when Miss Maple launches the seeds off, she does it with winged baskets and other vessels that glow and float on the water. This is a completely formed world that all readers will want to linger in.
Cozy and lovely, this picture book is a celebration of seasons and the earth, but it is also a reflection on the skill and care of nurturing. Get this one for your Earth Day units and pull it out when covering seasons too. Though I think it would be best of all curled up under warm blankets and watching autumn arrive. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.