Summary: Caterpillar Summer
In Caterpillar Summer, Cat and her brother Chicken spend a lot of time together because no one knows how to calm him down like she does. Chicken hates loud noises and is obsessed with sharks. Since their father (who was Black) died, their mom (who is White) has had to work longer hours to provide for them. It doesn’t help that she actually LOVES her job and is sometimes a bit too eager to leave Cat in charge of her brother.
When an anticipated vacation does not go according to plan, the kids have to spend time with their grandparents — their mother’s parents (whom they’ve never met!) — on Gingerbread Island in North Carolina. This idyllic setting is perfect to allow both children form new connections. It also provides a chance for Cat to be a child for once, learn more about their mother’s parents, grow close to them, and even develop a love of fishing.
This is one of those HEART novels. It did not draw me in from page one like McDunn’s sophomore novel, The Queen Bee and Me, but once I made it to the 10% mark, I was hooked. Things really start to move when the kids end up on the island. Readers immediately see how much “parenting” Cat does for her brother, how it almost seems like she exists for him in the beginning of the novel. But there’s a shift when they get to the island.
I loved Cat’s grandparents. This is one of those really good grandparent bond stories. It’s especially heartwarming because Cat’s parents get a second chance to make things right with their daughter. And they have such a sweet relationship with their grandkids. The writer also touches on the fact that the children are biracial and how that affects the way some people act towards them as well as certain interracial issues like Cat’s mom having to learn to handle her curly hair after her dad dies.
Cat and her brother’s sibling relationship is a key part of this book and while not officially mentioned, Chicken seems to be neurodiverse. Yet, he is still a full human with interests of his own and we come to see how much of a sweet, sensitive kid he is. Finally, this book’s island setting is rich, much like Mullaly-Hunt’s Cape Cod setting in Shouting at the Rain. The kids play on the beach, fish, make friends and go to the small local stores so common in small island towns.
Overall: Caterpillar Summer
In Caterpillar Summer, author McDunn explores family secrets, bullying, friendships, fishing, summer living, grandparent relationships, the grief of losing a parent, and so much more. This moving middle-grade novel is both fun and tender and will leave you with a real summer feeling! If you love heartwarming stories about sibling bonds set in idyllic locations, then you should definitely check this one out. I listened to the audiobook and the narration is excellent.
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Have you read this book or McDunn’s other novel? Many recommended I stay the course with this one – thank you! Which other summery, heartwarming middle-grade books would you recommend?