The four Gareth children - Alex, Penny, Robin, and Naomi - live in a house in London called "Medway" with their mother and scientist father. They areThe four Gareth children - Alex, Penny, Robin, and Naomi - live in a house in London called "Medway" with their mother and scientist father. They are surprised enough when their father decides to go away for a year to study epidemics; when he falls ill and their mother must rush quickly to his side, they are thrown for a complete loop. With little time to prepare, the children are sent off to Ireland to spend the summer with their great-aunt Dymphna, who many years before looked after their father after the loss of his parents during World War II. Aunt Dymphna, who lives in "Reenmore," a house filled with books and other items she purchases from flea markets, is an eccentric old lady who values none of the comforts to which the children are so accustomed. She expects the children to cook and clean and to look after and entertain themselves. Though the Gareths have some help in the form of kind and generous neighbors, they are mostly on their own to figure things out, as Aunt Dymphna typically responds to requests for help with cryptic lines of verse and nothing more. To complicate matters further, the children also find themselves hiding a possible fugitive - a boy named Stephan who wears dark glasses - in one of Aunt Dymphna's bedrooms, fearing that if they don't help him, he will meet with a dangerous end.
This book is quite different from Streatfeild's earlier works. Whereas her titles from the '30s and '40s didn't seem to match a particular formula, this book is much like many other family stories of the 1960s, including those by Elizabeth Enright, to whom the story is dedicated. The main difference between this book and others of its type seems to be in the character of Aunt Dymphna, whose mysterious larger-than-life personality makes her unique among the adults who populate children's books. Aunt Dymphna is a force to be reckoned with, and despite the children's frustrations with her behavior, she never changes, or softens, or apologizes for making the children's visit difficult. She remains who she is, for better or for worse, even to the last moment of the story. It is because of this steadfastness in the character of Aunt Dymphna, and the way the children are forced to grow and change in order to make their time with her bearable, that leads me to dislike the American title for the book, The Magic Summer, and to prefer instead the original British title, The Growing Summer. More than anything else, this is a story about kids who have been a bit spoiled learning how to look after themselves and to grow up in the absence of the kind sympathy of their parents. Aunt Dymphna herself may seem magical, but there is more blood, sweat, and tears in the kids' summer experience than magic.
The subplot involving the young boy with dark glasses, Stephan, who tells the children he has escaped from a Communist country is largely unnecessary and felt like a gimmick to keep kids interested rather than an integral part of the plot. Personally, I think there is plenty of great conflict in the book without Stephan, and I would have happily traded the pages spent on him for more late-night lobster hunts with Aunt Dymphna or a few more awkward exchanges about laundry between Penny and the neighbor women. Though the details of life at Reenmore are wonderfully evocative, and left me with a very clear picture of the setting for the story, I got to the end of the book feeling like I could have enjoyed more detail, not just about the house, but about the neighbor families, the local children, and even Aunt Dymphna's history. It's not that the book doesn't feel complete; I just liked the setting so much, I could have happily spent more time there.
While I think Ballet Shoes is still my favorite Streatfeild title, this book was a treat and I happily read the whole thing in one sitting. It's interesting to see how Streatfeild's writing evolved with the times, and yet remained distinctive as compared with other writers of books of the same genre. I won't forget Aunt Dymphna any time soon, and I look forward to learning about some of the poems she quoted with which I was not familiar. This was the perfect read for a rainy summer afternoon, and one I can enthusiastically recommend.
This book is a good example of why parents should pre-read the books they read aloud. This poem starts out light-hearted enough, but I was not prepareThis book is a good example of why parents should pre-read the books they read aloud. This poem starts out light-hearted enough, but I was not prepared for the sadness - and the creepiness - of the ending. I love picture books that illustrate poems, but this one is definitely for an older audience and not for preschoolers. My three-year-old didn't understand it, so it worked out, but if she had understood the ending, it would have been difficult to discuss it with her. ...more
Most of the time, the Bean children - Anna, George ("String"), and Jenny ("Jelly") - are not allowed to go up on the roof. When Anna has to write a roMost of the time, the Bean children - Anna, George ("String"), and Jenny ("Jelly") - are not allowed to go up on the roof. When Anna has to write a roof poem for a school assignment, however, Mama makes an exception for her, and soon the entire family is up there seeking poetic inspiration.
This book is very spare and short compared to many others by Betsy Byars, and is clearly geared toward an early elementary audience. Even though the plot seems slight, however, Byars manages to pack a lot of subtle details into the dialogue and description. By virtue of the fact that George and Jenny have nicknames at school and Anna does not, the reader gains insight into each child's status among his or her peers and understands that Anna may be quieter and more serious than her siblings. The Bean parents' pride over Anna possibly having her poem selected for a book at school and their comments about not having finished school themselves and having grandparents who could not read at all tell a lot about their past and their future hopes for their children. Even the poems the family members write on the roof reveal something about each one's priorities and sense of humor. It never ceases to impress me how Byars can turn the simple day-to-day events of life into these heartwarming and meaningful stories.
Beans on the Roof is a sweet book that could be used to introduce the concept of writing poetry to kids who are just beginning to compose their own works. It celebrates the warmth of friendship among siblings and the value of writing something you love even if it is not like anyone else's work, and even if it is not recognized by others in the way you hope. In some ways, it reminds me of some of Patricia MacLachlan's shorter, descriptive chapter books (White Fur Flying, The Truth of Me, Fly Away, etc.), but with a lighter touch and a clear appeal to younger readers. I had never heard of this book before this reading, but even though it is not Byars's absolute best, it is still very satisfying and absolutely lives up to the quality of writing I have come to expect from her.
While his older sister, Clara May and younger brother, "Skinny Little Renfroe" manage to get along and work together as a team and a family, D.J. ofteWhile his older sister, Clara May and younger brother, "Skinny Little Renfroe" manage to get along and work together as a team and a family, D.J. often chooses to be on the outskirts, picking fights and causing mischief with his best friend. Though his parents try to convince him repeatedly to join the family and stopping picking on his siblings, it isn't until peach picking season, when D.J.'s pranks lead to serious illness for Renfroe and major disappointment and embarrassment for Clara May, that he begins to understand he is truly his own worst enemy.
This book, though superficially similar to a book like Strawberry Girl, is actually very simplistic and almost boring by comparison. The story is message-driven, and there is never a moment where the reader is not aware that she is being taught a life lesson about the importance of family cooperation. D.J. is not a particularly believable twelve-year-old boy to begin with, and the sudden dawning of his self-awareness in the second half of the book makes him even less credible. This story clearly has one aim: to warn kids away from being like D.J. And it's hard to feel connected to a first-person narrator who is clearly just a pawn in a very special lesson.
I did like the descriptions of the peach harvest, which gave a glimpse into this very specific time and place. I just wished these details had served as more than a vehicle for the didactic storyline. It felt like most of the events of the book were random and included only as a means of forcing D.J.'s ultimate reformation.
We own this book, and I would have no problem with my kids reading it if they want to in the future, but I won't be prioritizing it as a read-aloud nor would I be especially disappointed if they decided not to read it, or said they didn't like it. I'd give it a solid three stars because the message, though lacking in subtlety, is a good one, and because the writing is decent. Still, it is mostly a forgettable book, and I wouldn't recommend bending over backwards trying to get a copy, nor am I especially interestedin the sequel, Renfroe's Christmas. I am, however, looking forward to trying some of the author's other books, especially Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain and Queenie Peavey, about both of which I have heard good things.