The last of the books I got on my last library trip was Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn. I finished it a few days before we had to return it to the library. I had Tiffany read it to so that I could talk about it with someone and see if I could work out my thoughts a bit more.
I enjoyed it from some standpoints but struggled with others. Here’s a bit about the story:
Caterpillar is about eleven years old. Her brother Chicken is about six or seven and has “special needs.” Her father died of cancer several years prior and her mother works three jobs. Cat has a special relationship with her brother.
It was the sibling relationship that drew me to this book. I liked the idea of it being a summer vacation kind of story. I did not realize that Chicken had special needs when I picked up the book.
I have no background with special needs children and I enjoyed reading about how Cat dealt with and helped Chicken. I felt like it gave me some insight into dealing with a child with special needs (although I’m clueless as to just what these “special needs” are, still). So from that standpoint, I think it can help shed some light, especially if your child knows someone who has a sibling that has special needs of some kind. (I’m wording this badly but I think it can be helpful in some situations.)
However, I had a big problem with the book in that the mother is pretty absent, so much so that Cat makes most of the meals and tends to Chicken most of the time. It is made pretty clear that her mom works a lot and doesn’t even stop to eat meals with them even when she is working from home. I just really felt that the children were not her priority.
Now, if you don’t want any spoilers, I recommend you stop reading here because I’m going to do a few specifics and scroll past the next two paragraphs for my bottom line and things to consider.
I did not like that Cat and Chicken didn’t even know they had other grandparents. They were aware of their father’s parents but not her mother’s, even though the mom says that she talks to her mom frequently. Now on top of that, she is leaving them with her parents and they are several hours away from where she has to work for the time period. Not only that but this was supposed to be a vacation time of doing things together in the evenings and now that just won’t be possible. She does promise to come on the weekends but work things keep her from keeping that promise. So you can see this book does not build a very good relationship between parent and children but it is what causes the relationship between siblings.
However, Cat is beginning to dislike the responsibility she feels to always be self-sacrificing. I think this book does a good job dealing with this aspect but because of these things I cannot recommend that you just hand your child this book and let them read it. At best, read it together (as a read-aloud) enjoying the book together and talking about what’s happening and if decisions that were made were right or if it had been better if other decisions had been made. Otherwise be sure to read it yourself and talk about it with your child(ren) even if you don’t read it together.
- This book can give insight to children with special needs.
- It is a fun summer read taking place on a NC Island.
- It is about a girl realizing that she can do things she enjoys doing.
- It is about finding grandparents and learning to love and trust them.
A few things to consider:
- father is dead (cancer) but not shown
- parent who works a lot
- estranged relationships
- special needs child
- assumed responsibilities
I also really liked how there were a couple of situations that arose where there was a misunderstanding but it was resolved very quickly! Too many times misunderstandings are a whole big plot point in books but in this it was handled well.
Let me know if you have read this book or if you do read it, in the comments. I love to chat about books.
Until next time,