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Sweeping Up the Heart

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A novel about loss, loneliness, and friendship that tells the story of the spring break that changes seventh-grader Amelia Albright's life forever.

Amelia Albright dreams about going to Florida for spring break like everyone else in her class, but her father--a cranky and stubborn English professor--has decided Florida is too much adventure.

Now Amelia is stuck at home with him and her babysitter, the beloved Mrs. O'Brien. The week ahead promises to be boring, until Amelia meets Casey at her neighborhood art studio. Amelia has never been friends with a boy before, and the experience is both fraught and thrilling. When Casey claims to see the spirit of Amelia's mother (who died ten years before), the pair embarks on an altogether different journey in their attempt to find her.

192 pages, ebook

First published March 19, 2019

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About the author

Kevin Henkes

134 books1,058 followers
Kevin Henkes became an author/illustrator when he was nineteen years old, working on a card table in his bedroom.
Today he's the author of many award-winning picture books and novels.

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5 stars
388 (24%)
4 stars
639 (40%)
3 stars
468 (29%)
2 stars
60 (3%)
1 star
24 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 352 reviews
971 reviews12 followers
November 4, 2018
I love Kevin Henkes and this is a quiet, slow, deeply felt little book. I'm having trouble seeing a broad appeal to kids, if I'm being honest, but the right kid at the right time could get a lot from it.
Profile Image for Monica Edinger.
Author 10 books336 followers
December 3, 2018
Exquisite. I tend to shy away from sad, melancholy, poignant sort of books but decided to read this because... Kevin Henkes. It is all that, but I thought it gorgeous. The title is from an Emily Dickenson poem and she is drifting above this story in a very light barely visible way. Made me go look up the poem from which the title is taken as well as others. Also had to refresh myself on her biography. Have to admit I've never gotten into Dickenson, but if anyone could change that it would be Henkes because of this book.
Profile Image for Melissa Sarno.
Author 3 books59 followers
December 15, 2018
Reading this book is a beautiful lesson on economy of language. I marveled at so many sentences, how absolutely perfect they were, conveying so much with so little.
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,023 reviews17 followers
October 21, 2018
Kevin Henkes is a Wisconsin treasure. The word I most often want to use in describing his books is “gentle” and this one fits perfectly. I didn’t understand why he set this story in 1999 as opposed to any other year and Amelia read much younger than seventh grade to me, but this would still be a wonderful recommendation for those dealing with the loss of a parent/single parenthood.
Profile Image for Susan.
137 reviews2 followers
November 5, 2018
Thank you to the publisher and edelweiss for this DRC.
This is a sweet story about love and loss and how those two things shape our interactions with the people in our lives.
I empathized with the main character, Amelia. I saw her clay creations, many of which were identical, as a reflection of how she was trying to hold on to what was comfortable in her life. Change can be difficult, especially when it has to do with family.
I did feel as though Amelia presented more like a 5th grader than a 7th grader and there were many times where I thought the author could have delved farther into the story, but I appreciate the overall message.
Profile Image for Cassie Thomas.
448 reviews16 followers
January 7, 2019
A very fragile, sweet, soft story of Amelia and her longing to be noticed, loved, felt, understood. In a world where there is so much chaos, this story takes you to a place considered lonely and fills in holes that may need to be filled in. As a teacher, I see a lot of students in Amelia, a lot that just want to be heard.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 28 books5,609 followers
April 8, 2019
Beautiful, deceptively simple story about a spring break, during which Amelia thinks that nothing will happen because she isn't going anywhere. But over the course of the week things happen that change her life in ways she never would have expected.
Profile Image for Darla.
3,248 reviews487 followers
March 14, 2019
Beautifully constructed around a poem by Dickinson, the imagery communicated by the phrase "sweeping up the heart" literally becomes the centerpiece of the story. The cover complements the narrative by showing us Amelia's handwork in the studio as well as highlighting an illuminating exchange between father and daughter. So much is said in such a short novel. Will catch the reader unaware and steal their heart.

Thank you to Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss for providing a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Laura Harrison.
988 reviews111 followers
March 17, 2019
I don't know how Kevin Henkes does it. Maybe it is his heart. You can see it in every thing he creates. Another masterpiece.
Profile Image for Dan.
484 reviews11 followers
April 30, 2020
This book just really resonated with my daughter and I right now. It’s about a girl that’s dealt a tough hand and how she is able to grow from her trials. Things happen for a reason and I’m going to try to stay positive during this time of Covid-19. Kevin Henkes is a great writer for tweens. He gets them well.
Profile Image for Lesley.
375 reviews
January 22, 2019
Amelia’s mother died when she was too young to remember her, so she has not missed her or grieved her death—at least not like her father, the Professor, who has an inability to express his love—and his thoughts. As in the Emily Dickinson poem, Amelia presumes he went through “Sweeping up the Heart and putting Love away.” (50) Luckily, Amelia has been raised by a neighbor who comes to the house each day and loves Amelia as if her own.

But during Spring Break, twelve-year-old Amelia’s life begins to change. She has become used to being alone, throwing herself into her small sculptures, since her best friend turned Mean Girl. “’I never liked that kid,’ her father said…. ‘I thought she was a miserable soul.’” (175). When Amelia meets her art teacher’s nephew, Casey, they become fast friends with a hint of something more. Meanwhile Casey is working on preventing his parents impending divorce and has his own sweeping up the heart (literally, a sculpture he made to save the marriage).

Looking out the restaurant window where they imagine lives for the passersby, Amelia notices a woman who looks like her mother and even resembles Amelia herself. Casey, full of imagination, suggests that it is her mother’s spirit, and Amelia takes this to the next step—What if her mother didn’t really die? As she begins to imagine life with her mother, she feels the grief she has been spared. The woman turns out not to be her mother, but is someone who might be able to heal their family. “Although this wasn’t the spring break she’d wanted, she wouldn’t change it.” (179)

I have read Kevin Henkes’ picture books, and I felt the same language and structure in this book. This is a novel about complex emotions and relationships but written simply in lovely language with characters who immediate became part of my heart.
Profile Image for Samantha (WLABB).
3,376 reviews233 followers
May 23, 2020
Henkes did a lovely job capturing Amelia's loneliness and frustration with her father. I know I was very frustrated with her father, and I was quite happy, when she mustered the courage to confront him. It was a real turning point for them. The friendship between Ameila and Casey was very sweet too. He was so open about his pain due to his parents' martial problems, and it seemed to help Amelia as she processed her own emotions regarding feeling unsure about her friendship with her best friend, the way her father abandoned her emotionally, and the loss of a mother she never really knew. I was endlessly thankful for Mrs. O'Brian as I read this book. She was shining star for Amelia, who helped keep her on course. This book was quietly beautiful, and totally sneaked up on me.


Profile Image for Edie.
465 reviews14 followers
February 1, 2019
A quiet book for thoughtful kids who are willing to think about loss and loneliness. Henkes writes powerfully about these topics and gets into the emotional roller coaster that children can experience when they begin to convince themselves of a reality they wish for but is a pipe dream. Luckily for Amelia she has Mrs. O'Brien, the grandmotherly neighbor who has looked after her since her mother died when she was 2. Their exchanges are warm and comforting, even when Amelia doesn't quite recognize their comfort. Heneks understand young girls perhaps better than they understand themselves and is comes through loud and clear, think about Olive's Ocean and Junonia. Glad to have another in that group.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,700 reviews41 followers
March 29, 2019
*Review is of an advanced reader copy

An old soul book about an old soul child. There is something almost hauntingly bittersweet about this novel. Reminiscent of Cynthia Rylant's Rosetown, Sweeping Up the Heart focuses on a lonely little girl stuck at home over spring break. When her emotionally distant father denies her pleas for a trip to Florida, Amelia instead spends her days molding clay at a local art studio. It is there she encounters a new friend, Casper. Together the pair sets out in search of signs from Amelia's long dead mother.
Perhaps it is the pre Y2K setting but the characters in this novel seem more innocent than those one typically finds in the novels (and streets) today. Amelia and Casper appear more vulnerable and less jaded, thus making their thoughts and feelings more readily accessible which in turn makes them much more appealing than the children of today who cannot seem to be bothered to look up from their handheld devices. I'm not sure how wide or receptive of an audience there will be for such a tender story but I do believe, for "old souls" this book will indeed sweep up their hearts.
Profile Image for Sascha.
Author 5 books20 followers
February 12, 2019
4 1/2 stars

I haven’t read a Middle Grade novel in a billion years, but since I decided to undertake one, I am so delighted that it turned out to be Kevin Henkes’ Sweeping Up the Heart.

While Amelia wishes that she could be like the other kids who are off to Florida for Spring break, she finds herself stuck at home with her distant Professor father and Mrs. O’Brien, their neighbor, who has been there for Amelia since the death of her mother. However, Amelia’s life shifts within that week in ways she could never have guessed.

This is such a gentle telling, exploring communication and the lack thereof, relationships unfolding, dissolving, and being rediscovered, and a world of imagination.

While some of the storytelling and mood could seem melancholy, it is ultimately a novel filled with hope, especially as Amelia comes to terms with the people in her life (and they come to terms with her), new and old, and discovers that magic doesn’t just occur in places like Florida on Spring break, but also in familiar places like home.

I won an ARC from Harper Collins Children’s books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for LauraW.
750 reviews17 followers
April 19, 2019
Plusses: The main characters, Amelia and Casey, felt quite real to me: the indecision, the hesitancy about relationships to other people. Even Mrs. Obrien and the clay shop owner felt pretty real. Negative: The one who puzzled me was the dad. Way too remote, even given the circumstances. It makes what could have been a more touching story just a bit too odd for me. The reason for his emotional absence and the ultimate resolution of the book just don't seem to quite match up. It leaves me with a weird feeling about the whole book - as though it needed just a bit more author gestation time.
Profile Image for Eija.
Author 1 book16 followers
February 16, 2019
I really liked this. If it’s possible for books to have sister-books, I feel like this could be a read alike or sister-book to We Are Okay, but for younger readers.

I like Henkes writing style in his novels quite a bit— very understated and beautiful— very thoughtful books about characters navigating big ideas and grounded in family.
Profile Image for Pat.
624 reviews
April 30, 2019
Who would have thought that the author of so many beloved children’s books would write such a touching and poetic middle grade novel? I loved the relationship between Amelia and Mrs. O’Brien, and the innocence and honesty of her friendship with Casey. This will break your heart and heal it up again.
Profile Image for Linda .
3,653 reviews40 followers
July 12, 2019
I adore every book by Kevin Henkes and was happy when I learned about his new chapter book, and even happier that I was able to get it from my wonderful library!
Amelia, just beginning the adolescent thoughts of "BORING", a seventh-grader dear to my heart because I taught middle-schoolers for a long time, know they're shaky about growing up, mostly wishing that life would be exciting all the time. This girl whose story spans only a week, her spring break, a week where she is sure that she's the only one staying home. Her widowed, quiet professor father does not like to travel, thus the dream of Florida flies right out the window. Poor Amelia, a theme she doesn't like much, but Henkes repeats, perhaps seriously, but sometimes reflecting the feelings of a twelve-year-old. This is repeated in kind sympathy by the neighbor Mrs. O'Brien, a woman who cares for Amelia while her father works. In fact, she cares for them both with love and support.
Amelia also misses her best friend Natalie in France, feeling quite adrift, but the feeling doesn't stay. She creates ceramic animals, this time rabbits, in a nearby studio and there meets Casey, visiting while his parents are on a retreat to save their marriage. Casey is trying to convince them to stick together, but it isn't going well and Amelia understands. Her mother died when she was two and her father, while she knows he cares, is gone a lot and distant, too. When a game begins with Casey, the two have fun creating stories about those who pass by a window. Amelia's thoughts explode when Casey sees a woman and imagines she could be Amelia's mother because of similarities. How Amelia responds, internally and outwardly makes much of the tale, showing her growth and yearning for something, anything to happen. The title echoes the emotions shown in the Emily Dickinson poem from which it came.
It's a quiet book, certainly one showing Amelia yearning and wondering about life as she imagines it could (should?) be. I especially loved that this "tween" still used a beloved stuffed lamb, Dr. Cotton, to talk to: "She went on to tell him about Casey and Lindy, the remembered moments making their way into the catalog of her life."
Profile Image for Mary Lou.
95 reviews
May 18, 2019
Kevin Henkes can pack a whole lot of everything in such a simple, lyrical fashion. From picture books like Kitten’s First Full Moon and Waiting, to Olive’s Ocean and now Sweeping Up the Heart, Henkes proves his command in the field of children’s literature. Simply love him...
Profile Image for Tamsyn.
1,205 reviews6 followers
January 10, 2019
A lovely, spare, quiet story of a week in a girl's life -- a vacation, though not the one she had hoped for, in FL, but at home in Madison, WI. Amelia's mother died when she was too young to have memories of her, but she is cared for by Mrs. O'Brien and her father (who doesn't like to travel) at home. She loves art, and especially working with clay, and spends a lot of time at a local studio making small animals. This week, she meets Casey, nephew of the studio owner, and they form an unexpected friendship -- the first of many unexpected things during the course of this week. I was pulled along effortlessly through this short book, a very enjoyable one.
Profile Image for Lorie Barber.
557 reviews36 followers
January 28, 2019
Thank you to Greenwillow books for sharing an ARC with my #bookexpedition group. Kevin Henkes always has a way with words, and Sweeping Up the Heart is no exception. Quiet, lyrical, and almost as fragile as the ceramic sculptures the protagonist creates, Amelia’s story is one of loss, grief, loneliness, and unexpected change. I enjoyed the weaving in of Dickenson, and the exploration of her words throughout the story.
Profile Image for Dylan Teut.
377 reviews137 followers
November 25, 2018
"Life is a sweet, sad mystery." Another masterpiece from Kevin Henkes.
420 reviews13 followers
April 20, 2019
Maybe it’s this novel’s premise, but Henkes’ prose struck me here as similar to Birdsall’s, like this was the story of an alternate universe Penderwick.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 352 reviews

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