Ben lives with his father and his faithful imaginary dog, Sunshine. This summer, he’s going to spend an entire week with his mother, whom he hasn’t seem since he was three. She lives alone on an island in northern Minnesota. As he and his father journey to meet her, Ben struggles to ignore Sunshine, since his father thinks Ben is too old to have an imaginary friend. After journeying to his mother’s island home by canoe, Ben finds himself struggling with his anxiety and often unable to speak. He has so many questions he wants to ask her and has imagined many conversations together, but nothing comes out. He desperately wants to figure out how to get her to return to living with them. Instead of asking, Ben spends his days on the island, giving his mother time to read. After a disastrous expedition to see some bears and another harrowing solo journey in a canoe, a disaster hits the island and a path to forgiveness is formed.
Bauer is such a remarkable writer. Her books are invitingly brief for young readers and also offer real depth of emotion. In this novel, she shows the struggles of someone with anxiety who is often asking “what if” rather than diving in. She doesn’t allow it to be superficial, instead really exploring what it feels like. At the same time, readers will realize that Ben is incredibly brave and fueled by anger that he won’t acknowledge. His connection to Sunshine is fully realized, from the way they curl up to sleep together to her position in the canoe to their ongoing friendship in a new place.
Ben is a complex character and so are his parents. His father is fastidious, clearly anxious himself in ways that Ben can’t articulate. His mother is a remarkable character in children’s literature. A mother who left her child behind for reasons that are hinted at but not fully revealed until later in the novel. Yet she is given the space to be warm, kind and caring while also being rather distant and reserved. She is many things, and also far more than she realizes.
A book full of dangers, adventure and heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Two children set off to discover the wild, leaving their urban world and heading into a nearby park filled with trees, ferns and birds. There are moments of wonder and some shivers too. Wild smells different from the city too and demands that you breathe it in deeply. Wild can be dangerous, prickly and poisonous, but it can also be filled with softness and soothing. It can be hot and cold. It is filled with secrets to explore and even discoveries to eat and savor. Even in large cities where there doesn’t seem to be room for wild to exist, you can see it if you follow the subtle clues.
Lloyd’s writing is a poem about wilderness and the importance of it in our lives. She doesn’t lecture about it in any way, allowing nature itself to invite readers in more deeply. She allows nature to sing on the page, showing its many sides. She does not shy away from showing that nature can be slightly frightening but balances that nicely with more positive sides of being outside and enjoying the outdoors.
Halpin’s illustrations are done in watercolor and colored pencil. She creates a wild that is filled with huge trees, large leaves, flowers and shadow. It is also full of water, places to swim and berries too. Her art covers the entire page at times, filling it to the brim with nature. Other times, the wild is surrounded by white space on the page, allowing young readers to both feel immersed in green wonder but also able to glimpse it from a distance at times too.
A lovely encouragement to find your own wild in your neighborhood, this picture book should be wildly successful. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Penguin Random House and Edelweiss.
This is the story of a family and a house. When the house was new, it stood upon a newly planted lawn where the trees had been removed. It was bare, not even a stump left behind. On either side of the bare lot were trees of all sorts, the kind that spread seeds and scents. Two children lived in the new house and often played in the trees at the edges, watching their father care for the lawn. Their father mowed down all of the small tree seedlings before they could get started at all. But the children grew up, the man moved away to be closer to them, and the house was left alone. Alone except for the trees, which grew and took over the barren lawn, and eventually lifted the house high on their shoulders.
Kooser writes with amazing depth here, each sentence resonant with meaning and feeling. While the book can be read more lightly, the joy here is in that dark deep that lies behind the lines. The story plays with man vs. wilderness, the American obsession with lawns, children being pulled to the edges to find their own wild spaces, and the return to nature in the end. The writing is beautiful because of that ever-present ache that is there, the tug of the trees, the dance of the seeds.
Klassen has illustrated this book with such delicacy that it shows he feels that same amazing pull. He lets us peek at the house from the shelter of the woods, our eyes almost aching with the bareness in the sun. He captures the tree seeds in flight from high above, allowing us to fly with them and plant ourselves too. He plays with light, shadow and darkness, just as Kooser does.
This book is poetry, without the stanzas. It is a picture book that has depth, courage and looks deeply into our relationship with nature and with our families. Beautiful. Appropriate for ages 7-10.