Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

By The Beautiful Sea

When I was about the same age as the main character in this book, Junonia by Kevin Henkes, I had a large sea shell collection.  My great uncle hand made a beautifully finished set of three stacking shelves which I lined with black velvet.  Painstakingly I labeled each new find which came into my possession either by my own discovery along the beaches of Florida or from family and friends. It was my pride and joy; each shell as valuable to me as a King's ransom.

 It's February; winter for those living in Wisconsin.  Nine-year-old Alice, her Mom, Pam, and her Dad, Tom, have traded the snow drifts for blue sky and sandy beaches along an even bluer ocean.  Crossing the bridge to Sanibel Island, Florida for their annual vacation Alice feels an unusual sensation which quickly passes but not before she anxiously wonders if changes are in store for her.

Alice concentrated entirely on the pelican.  The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder...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 trip is special but she hopes this one will be perfect; this year she will celebrate her tenth birthday, double digits.  Maybe this year she will find a junonia, a rare shell of the sea. 

What she does find immediately are changes.  The grandchildren of neighbors, the Wishmeiers, are not coming.  Helen Blair, an artist from New York City, has been snowed in and can not get a flight out.  Her mother's college friend, Kate, is bringing a new boyfriend with his young daughter.  As an only child, Alice, viewed all these vacation people as her extended family.  What will happen now?

As pages are turned a story so wonderful in its normalcy unfolds before readers.  Characters richly developed and supportive of children weave in and out of the events of this vacation week and memorable birthday.   Henkes' descriptions are so vivid in imagery that by my completion of the book it looked like a pincushion stuck with  mini-sticky notes.  Here are just a couple.

She was loose jointed, and although she felt awkward much of the time, she often appeared graceful.  She swung her arms in smooth half circles; her legs moved like ribbons.

At that very moment, Alice loved her mother so completely she thought they might fuse together and melt away.

They walked at a turtle's pace.  The night air was cool.  Stars littered the black sky like crushed ice.  No one spoke most of the way, so Alice listened to the palm fronds rustling overhead and the rhythmic pounding of the waves.

As a reader Henkes had me captivated with his heart-warming insight into the mind of a young girl as she tries to adjust her thinking around the shifts that life is handing her.  Like a favorite blanket wrap yourself in this cozy, gentle telling.  Junonia would be a great read aloud to a class, one on one or individually for upper elementary or lower middle school age.  His use of language is so exemplary that short journal writing would be a good extension.

The illustrations by this Caldecott Award winning author/illustrator are the icing on this particular cake.  Each chapter beginning is adorned with a picture that highlights an event or observation within that section.  His soft blue endpapers of beach, sea and sky set the tone for this title.

Listen to this video with Henkes speaking about Junonia, go get a copy and begin reading, preferably with a younger friend. 

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