Summer of the Gypsy Moths Book Poster Image

Summer of the Gypsy Moths



Captivating story of resilient girls has some dark moments.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn about the life cycle of gypsy moths, the meaning of Fado music, and how to dig for clams, among other things. They'll also discover some very helpful housekeeping "Hints from Heloise," such as how to get peanut butter out of their hair. But, most important, they'll see that there are many ways to build a family.

Positive messages

The girls make a few inappropriate choices, though never easily or out of meanness or disrepect. Their situation forces them to pool their individual strengths and learn to lean on and love each other, and they become better people in spite of how they get there. In the process, they learn that that loyalty, a little ingenuity, and good deal of teamwork can bring about surprising success and happy endings.

Positive role models

Stella and Angel definitely don't take life lying down; these girls are survivors. In spite of their complicated and tragic childhoods and the unusual choice they make regarding the garden burial, they're good kids, Stella especially. Years in foster care have made Angel a little rougher around the edges, but she, too, comes around in the end. They work hard, learn to feel empathy toward others, and act kindly and respectfully. Though their plan for survival depends on subterfuge and other less-than-correct actions, their motivations are understandable ... and right. George, Louise, and all of the other characters in the book, even the police officers, are the kind of people who make the world a better place.


Even though they aren't responsible for Louise's death, the girls bury her in the back yard. Some readers may find this episode gruesome. The description of how she looks when they find her is a bit graphic, but not gratuitously so.


When Angel tells Louise the story of "her Soaps," she reports to her about various pregnancies, wanted and unwanted. 


The occasional "crap" and "O Jesus querido," which in context seem like understandable outbursts.


Angel devours a steady supply of Dum Dums, and the girls make frequent use of Febreze.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that although Summer of the Gypsy Moths is a little unrealistic and somewhat confusing at the start, it builds into a good, strong story with unforgettable characters who show a unique ability to survive. But it isn't quite the innocent summertime read that the cover illustration implies, and it may be best for middle-grade readers. The prose is wonderful though complicated in spots, and parents should be prepared to discuss foster care issues, as well as a pivotal plot element (finding a dead body and its subsequent backyard burial), which may make the book iffy for younger/sensitive kids.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Two 11-year old girls, who are like "oil and water," are forced to live with Louise, who manages a small resort near the beach in Cape Cod. Stella, who has been sent to live with her great-aunt because her mother can't care for her, likes routine, collects "Hints from Heloise," and is amazingly resourceful. Angel, on the other hand, is a bit more bristly. Though she lacks Stella's daily know-how, she's about as independent as they come. She's been in and out of several foster homes, has no time for Stella at all, and is looking for the fastest way out of there. When Louise has a heart attack, the girls' already unstable world looks as though it may get even worse. That is, until the girls come up with a plan to keep things intact until they can get a foothold. Little by little, their choices force them to depend on each other, to grow and change (for the better), and to find the families they hope for.

Is it any good?


The characters are great, the writing is superb, and the story is captivating. SUMMER OF THE GYPSY MOTHS blends the nostalgic feel of a summer beach adventure with a mix of lovable characters, unique plot elements, unexpected events, and an uplifting ending. A few of the premises are a bit of a stretch -- for example, how the girls take care of Louise, and what they're able to do on their own.

But writing that's sensitive, funny, and full of fascinating details will carry most readers through those moments of disbelief. Young readers, especially, may begin this book feeling a bit confused and get to the middle feeling shocked over what these two 11-year-old girls do, but when most readers get to the ending, they'll want to pick it up and read it all over again.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how hard it would be for two 11-year-old girls to do what Stella and Angel do. What other books have you read about kids who are resourceful and take care of themselves in difficult situations?

  • What would have happened if Stella and Angel had called 911? Do you think what they did was reasonable? Believable? How did their actions affect the storyline? How did the author make what happened seem real?

  • What does Louise mean when she says Stella and Angel are like "oil and water"? In what ways are they the same, in what ways different? How does working together change them?

Book details

Author:Sara Pennypacker
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:April 24, 2012
Number of pages:288
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12

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Kid, 9 years old June 20, 2012

very good

very very good for children coming of age
What other families should know
Great role models