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Caterpillar Summer

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Caterpillar Summer Book Poster Image
Touching tale of girl's summer with brother, family secrets.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Because Chicken has special needs, readers understand what it takes to take care of a kid who needs to be watched all of the time. Because of Cat and Chicken's interests. there's information about sharks, fishing and different kinds of fish.

Positive Messages

Holding a family together is a quiet kind of work. Half of life is showing up. People can be good and bad at the same time. Stay focused on a goal and you'll get there. A place can be a friend to you. Perfection might be overrated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cat and Chicken find that their grandparents are supportive and loving, even though they had never met them before the summer that they were left in their care at the last minute. Cat takes very special care of her brother, who tends to be impulsive and make choices that are harmful to himself. Cat's mother works very hard to support her family, and she's willing ot admit her weaknesses when Cat points them out. 

Violence & Scariness

Some accidental violence among kids -- noses bonked and heads kicked while playing, but blood ensues. Siblings from one family of boys hit or bully each other. A family member has died of cancer.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Caterpillar Summer is a lovingly rendered story of a 11-year-old Cat and Chicken, her 7-year-old bother with special needs, who are suddenly sent from their home in San Francisco to spend the summer on an island off North Carolina with their maternal grandparents, whom they've never met. Their mother, author of a  picture book series called Caterpillar & Chicken, is busy working in Georgia. There are some perilous moments when Chicken gets lost or runs away, and there's a family of boys who bully and hit their younger brother. Author Gillian McDunn's own experience of having a brother with special needs informed this story. Chicken's special needs are not defined, but he's senitive to noise and touch and tends to fixate on things.

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What's the story?

In CATERPILLAR SUMMER, a sister who protects and cares for her brother wth special needs finds that staying with her grandparents over the summer is not as disappointing as it promised to be. In fact, life in the little community of Gingerbread Island, North Carolina, allows Cat Gladwell to receive some care and support that she'd long been missing. A family secret sets Cat on a path to figure out why her mother never talked about her childhood, or the loving people Cat's getting to know as her grandparents. 

Is it any good?

Touching, eloquent, and rendered like a watercolor, this is a great summer read for tweens who like stories about family and travel. Caterpillar Summer makes the most of familiar summer-book elements -- last-minute change of summer plans, an older sister who uses her ingenuity to keep her younger brother special needs under control, grandparents with a mysterious past, ocean views and bike rides with the freckled girl down the street, neighborhood boy that the girls have to one-up because he's such a bully, and ice cream, early morning walks on the beach, new skills learned, and mysteries solved.

There are challenges, and the family mysteries are subtle and deep, but the characters know how to laugh, even if they feel scared or awkward. Though it doesn't avoid complicated situations, Caterpillar Summer allows for the grace that some adults possess to come through, which feels comforting in a big, busy, sometimes scary world.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how race is portrayed in Caterpillar Summer. Cat and Chicken's father was African American, their mother is white. Is Cat treated differently in North Carolina than in San Francisco? 

  • Cat's brother has special needs, though they are not given a name in the story. How much time does Cat spend taking care of her brother? Does it affect her social life? How would you react if your sibling had needs like Chicken's? What would you do differently than Cat?

  • Cat and Chicken's mom works a lot, and the kids have to arrange their lives around their mother's work life. Does this seem realistic? Do you think parents who work are portrayed fairly in the media?

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