Ways to Make Sunshine: Ryan Hart, Book 1

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Ways to Make Sunshine: Ryan Hart, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Girl meets challenges with pluck in charming family tale.

Parents say

age 8+
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

Shows realistic challenges as the family deals with a move, the dad's job loss, living on a tighter budget, adjusting to the news of a new baby, and Ryan tries to overcome stage fright.

Positive Messages

Home is where you make it. Persistence is as important as talent. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A Black family in Portland, Oregon, makes a cozy, happy home despite financial setbacks. Black, White, and biracial kids have harmonious friendships. Main character Ryan, an African American girl, is self-conscious about her hair: There's a scene where she's embarrassed when her straightened hair reverts to its natural state while she's at a pool party with White friends. Ryan models how to handle adversity with gumption, as she tries to overcome crippling stage fright, adjusts to a new home and the news of a coming baby sister, and copes with her family's financial setbacks when her father loses his job. 

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in Ways to Make Sunshine, by Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Medal winner Renée Watson (Piecing Me Together), 11-year-old Ryan, an African American girl, adjusts to changes in her family life and her last year of middle school. The landlord sold the place where she lives and her dad has lost his job as a postal carrier. The family moves into a smaller house and has to live on a budget, but they make themselves at home there. Ryan still gets to cook with her mom, the extended family still gathers for Easter, and Ryan now lives closer to her friend KiKi. Ryan faces some challenges like getting over her stage fright and bickering with her older brother, Raymond. There's a scene where Ryan is embarrassed when her straightened hair reverts to its natural state while she's at a pool party with White friends. Nina Mata's iIlustrations add appeal for younger readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10-year-old Written bySSONORAS April 6, 2021

Real World Story

I really like this writing. The book was chosen by our librarian for our 10 y.o. child. As soon as I started reading, I wondered how old the main character was.... Continue reading

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What's the story?

When WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE begins, fourth-grader Ryan and her brother, Raymond, learn they'll be moving. The landlord sold the place where they live and their dad has lost his job as a mail carrier. The family moves into a smaller house and has to live on a budget, but they make themselves at home there. Ryan still gets to cook with her mom, and the extended family still gathers for Easter. Plus, Ryan lives closer to her friend KiKi. On the top shelf of her bedroom closet, Ryan discovers a little canister containing keepsakes including three hairpins and wonders about the person they belonged to. Ryan faces some challenges like getting over her stage fright and bickering with her older brother. 

Is it any good?

This is a charming book, but it lacks the kind of tension that would make it exceptional. Readers just beginning to venture into chapter books may enjoy the characters. For older readers, the story may not pack enough excitement. In Ways to Make Sunshine, author Renée Watson presents a spirited hero with a likable family. Ryan faces realistic challenges, both big and small: forgetting her lines in the Easter celebration at church, kids teasing her because of her "boy name," and moving to a new, smaller home. However, there isn't much suspense. Many conflicts are completely solved within the scene where they're introduced. The mystery of the canister in the closet fizzles. The stage fright theme doesn't build; it just comes to a forced resolution. The illustrations by Nina Mata are fun and engaging; they add to the appeal for younger readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the family in Ways to Make Sunshine faces challenges about money. How do the different family members cope? What's one luxury you have saved up for?

  • Fiona's mom is expecting a new baby. If you have siblings, what do you like most about having them? If you are the only child, what do you like most about that?

  • Ryan's mom lets her help out with cooking, and even try recipes of her own. What is your favorite thing an adult in your family has taught you to do?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of family and friendship

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