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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Junonia, written by Kevin Henkes. Harper, 2011. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"Her imagined birthday, the perfect one she'd wished for, had  stayed just out of reach. She'd experienced true happiness and its abrupt reversal. And then things had taken a turn for the better and ended up happy again. What a day!"

I have been a fan of Kevin Henkes since first reading Bailey Goes Camping to my grade two class in 1985. As happens so often, one book led to the next, and then the next and his name was always on my radar for anything new, up to and including Junonia. He never disappoints.

In this lovely, gentle story of growing up he introduces his audience to Alice Rice, a nine-year-old on the brink of celebrating another birthday. This one is sure to be different from all the rest...Alice is moving to double digit adolescence and she has many expectations for the changes that are sure to come.

Her family is on their way back to Sanibel Island, their annual winter vacation home. As they cross the bridge to the island Alice feels a bit unsettled and hopes that the feeling has nothing to do with her much anticipated  reunion with old friends. The fact that she will celebrate her birthday with them adds appeal for this particular year. The family arrives and are met with the news that changes are inevitable. One family is not coming as the children are older and facing more demands at school, her beloved artist friend is stranded in a snowstorm and her aunt, who usually stays with the Rice family, is soon to arrive with a new boyfriend and his daughter Mallory in tow. 
Alice is a collector of sea shells and has been ever thwarted in her quest to find a junonia, a rare and beautiful specimen. She is always on the lookout for one. Alice has many concerns this vacation, and Kevin Henkes gives voice to them in graceful prose. She thinks about God as a compassionate woman who lives in the ocean and would offer guidance and support in many needed ways. Her name would be Junonia.

This vacation is definitely a watershed for Alice. Much has changed, not to mention herself. It is tough to accept all the changes that it brings. Kevin Henkes captures all of the emotions felt by Alice and gives us a clear picture of a girl growing up and learning some things she would rather not learn. In the end, as they are leaving the island, she experiences the same unsettled feeling she felt upon arrival. This time it's also different:

"But as soon as the feeling rose up, it stopped. Suddenly she felt as if she were the center of everything, like the sun. She was thinking: Here I am. I have my parents. We're alone together. I will never be old. I will never die. It's right now. I'm ten."

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