Sunday, October 16, 2011

Junonia by Kevin Henkes

We read to know we are not alone (CS Lewis). I wish I had read Junonia when I was a Primary school child, Alice Rice and I have so much in common. Alice is a quiet, compliant and well mannered child. As an only child with older parents she spends a lot of time in the company of adults. She travels to the same special holiday house in Florida year after year and Alice especially loves celebrating her birthday with the most special food, presents and happenings that she can imagine. Finally Alice has a little mole on her face which she has very mixed feelings about.

Each year as this group of three, mother, father and Alice, arrive at their holiday destination they have a little competition. Who will spot the first pelican, dolphin, heron, ibis and seagull? But as they approach the familiar holiday house Alice is overcome by a feeling of dread. It seems things are destined to be different this year.

One thing that that has not changed though is her room :

The sun-bleached bedspread was printed with a pattern of a seaside Chinese village. Alice ran her fingers over rooftops and archways, over billowy swarms of butterflies and blossom-covered tress…. Here and there the bedspread was threadbare but Alice hoped it would never be replaced. She often fell asleep imagining that she was part of the village, wandering the twisted streets among the butterflies, collecting armfuls of fallen blossoms.”

Alice loves to collect shells and Henkes has thoughtfully included an illustration of all the shells that are found in this part of Florida. One shell that has alluded Alice is a junonia. She hopes that this year, the year she will turn ten, she will find this special shell washed up on the beach. Living near the beach I also find shells absolutely fascinating. Here is a video of the author talking about his book.

One of the biggest differences for Alice this year is the composition of the fellow holiday makers. Her holiday friends Colin, Chad and Heather are not coming and her beloved Aunty Kate is bringing a new friend called Ted and his young six year old daughter, Mallory.

Alice has to adapt to all this change but at least, it seems, her birthday celebration will be perfect :

“The hot dogs were perfect. The potato chips were perfect. Even the carrot sticks were perfect; they were sweeter than ever, and crunchy, and the most pure orange colour imaginable. Can food somehow know it’s your birthday and change to become more delicious? Underneath it all lay the faded red-and-white-checked tablecloth that Alice’s mother had found in the back of the cupboard. It was perfect too.”

You will hold your breath I am sure as the magic of this celebration crumbles around Alice.

My list of favourite books constantly changes and expands and now I am happy to add the gentle and emotional book Junonia. By coincidence we read Chrysanthemum to our Grade One classes this week and now that I think about it I can see lots of links between this very special picture which is essentially about identity and this novel by the same author, Junonia.

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