Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes

When I was a brand-new Children’s Librarian, I read Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum, and I fell in love with his picture books. He so perfectly captured the slights – large and small – that can cause a kid so much pain. (The fact that I was teased throughout elementary school for my own name may have had something to do with my particular sympathy for the little mouse.) And the drawings, of course, were adorable. I was thrilled to see that NetGalley had his forthcoming children’s novel on offer as an e-ARC, and I was not disappointed. In fact, my only complaint is that since I don’t have it as a hard copy, I can’t pass it on to my fourth-grade niece to read. I’ll just have to wait for May, I guess.

JunoniaJunonia by Kevin Henkes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Alice concentrated entirely on the pelican. The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder. Alice reached out, pressing her palms flat against the half-opened window. She’d seen pelicans before, every year that she had been here, but when you see something only once a year it’s always new, as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Everything is new here, she thought. New and exciting.

Every year, in early February, the Rice family travels from wintry Wisconsin to the sandy shore of Sanibel Island, Florida. The week coincides with Alice’s birthday, and this year is a big one: 10 years old. Double-digits. Alice looks forward to seeing the same people in the same cottages, doing the same things, as every year before. But this year is different. Mr. and Mrs. Wishmeier are there, but their three grandchildren have too much schoolwork this year and have stayed at home. Single, sophisticated Helen Blair is snowed in back in New York. Mrs. Rice’s college friend – Aunt Kate to Alice – is not staying with them this year. Instead, she has rented Helen Blair’s cottage and is bringing her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s six-year-old daughter, Mallory. All these changes have Alice off-balance, and the more she struggles to preserve her perfect vacation, the more things seem to fall apart around her.

Small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter complement the narrative, and Henkes includes a beautiful drawing of the various Florida shells that Alice collects.

Henkes brings Alice to life in simple, lovely prose. She is a quiet girl, comfortable spending time with adults. She is a girl on the edge of leaving childhood behind. She is caught between embracing the new adventures that changes bring and trying to find a way back to the security of the familiar. She is perfectly ten years old, and her complicated feelings are rendered with great skill. Recommend this sweet, wholesome coming of age story to 3rd to 5th grade.

On shelves May 2011

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley, by request

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