Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes

The phrase "instant classic" is so overused that it's just about totally meaningless, but I'm in favor of resurrecting it for one recent read, Kevin Henkes' Junonia. A junonia, for those not in the know (which I wasn't) is a type of seashell, one that is so rare that it is highly prized among shell collectors. And in Henkes' novel, ten-year-old Alice Rice is such a collector, who hopes that this year her vacation to Sanibel Island, Florida will yield her the precious find.

Alice has been coming to Sanibel Island on vacation almost since she can remember, and she loves the rhythm and predictability of the island. Her parents always rent the same cabin, the same neighbors are usually there, and her birthday is always the highlight of the trip. But this year, it seems that nothing will go according to plan. Old friends can't make it and new friends don't live up to Alice's expectations. Especially vexing is six-year-old Mallory, who wants to do everything Alice does and whose tantrums seem to ruin everything that would otherwise be so perfect.

Henkes' novel is one of those quiet, gentle plots that unfolds just like the ebb and flow of the tides. The conflict within Alice provides the greatest tension, as she wrestles with the reality of her trip, and how things have turned out differently from her ideal version. I think there's a lot here that speaks to kids of a certain type, the kind of child who craves routine and precision and is somewhat undone when actual events don't match up to expectation. And isn't that all of us, at some time or another?

Or maybe it was just me, but I can see how watching Alice deal with the way things change in this pivotal year would offer a number of opportunities to talk with kids who are themselves undergoing change. Whether that change stems from adding another family member, a move, changing schools or moving up a grade, or just getting older, Junonia is a book that will help kids see how change, though unsettling and not easy, can also bring about a lot of positives.

And in any case, Junonia is a pitch-perfect choice for reading aloud, a book whose subtle rhythms would make for the perfect bedtime read, whether on vacation at the beach (I wish!) or snuggled up together at home.

Junonia by Kevin Henkes, published by Greenwillow
Ages 8 up
Source: Library
Sample quote: "After all, she was going to be ten. Finding a junonia would be the perfect gift. She picked up one of her new tulip shells and turned it in the light. It was covered with bluish gray and brown markings. Its inner surface was lustrous. . . . It was many things, but it wasn't a junonia." (pp 87-88)
Highly recommended

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