Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Caterpillar Summer

McDunn, Gillian. Caterpillar Summer
April 2nd 2019 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by publisher through Netgalley

Cat and her younger brother Henry (know as Chicken) have a great life in their San Francisco neighborhood with their artist/professor mother, but are looking forward to spending the summer with family friends who have moved while their mother is teaching a class. When the friends suddenly have to go care for a grandmother in India, Cat and Chicken end up with grandparents they never knew who live on Gingerbread Island near Florida. Their mother has to work so hard because their father passed away from cancer four years ago, and since then it has been up to Cat to care for her younger brother, who seems to be on the autism spectrum and can have problems with impulsivity and sensitivity to loud or confusing situations. Cat has not told her mother that Chicken has started to run away from her when they are at home, because she hasn't wanted to worry her mother, but she is very concerned living so close to the ocean. Her grandmother, Lily, is delighted to have the children, but their grandfather, Macon, is a bit more reserved in his emotions. Cat settles in well, making a fast friend in Harriet and an enemy in John Henry, who challenges her to take up fishing for a local contest. Cat's mother was very good at fishing, and Cat hopes her mother will instruct her on her weekend visits, which end up being infrequent. She starts to investigate the schism between her mother and grandfather, and schemes to bring them closer together so that she and Chicken can spend more summers on Gingerbread Island. Free from caring for Chicken all the time, Cat is able to ride bikes, get ice cream, and fish with Harriet, and she begins to realize, especially reading her mother's picture books that revolve around two characters modeled off her and her brother, that she has had to bear too much responsibility for her brother.
Strengths: I really liked the portrayal of a tween who is given too much responsibility for a sibling. Cat loves Chicken, but is tired of sacrificing her own plans in order to take care of him. The way that the family has dealt with the dad is realistic and not overly sad. The tie-in with the picture books is amusing. The relationship between the grandparents and mother is explained just enough, and I liked that the father's reluctance was more about his future plans for his daughter than the fact that the relationship was a mixed race one, which would seem somewhat dated, although this was set in the South. This was generally an enjoyable summer romp with some more serious issues explored.
Weaknesses: This was a quiet, gentle book. It was a little predictable with the root of John Henry's bullying behavior (abusive older brothers) and the child-missing-during-storm scene, but I do read a few books! Students may not notice.
What I really think: This felt a bit like an older, more leisurely book that would have been wildly popular when I was a child. I can see it being read aloud in a lot of classrooms. I am debating purchase, because I have a lot of summer-on-the-beach/lake books that I enjoy but which don't circulate a lot. If this one has teachers and librarians pushing it, readers will pick it up.

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