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Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech

When Louie’s dad brings home the little donkey one cold, dark winter day, Louie just knows he can save him.  Even if he hasn’t had the best of luck before, with the worms, and the fireflies, and the goldfish, and the bird, and the kitten, and all the other small creatures he’s brought home.  This baby creature with the big ears and the spindly legs?  He just knows he can keep him alive, even when nobody else thinks he’ll make it.  After all, Louie was born early too, and he made it just fine.

Naming the donkey Winslow, Louie works hard – bottle-feeding, picking up straw and other not-so-fun messes, sleeping with Winslow to make sure he’s warm and has company, and even giving him shots when he gets sick.  Along with figuring out how to be a friend to his new neighbor Nora, all his work with Winslow helps Louie take his mind off how much he misses – and worries about – his big brother Gus since he joined the army.  And slowly, with a little help and a lot of love from friends, family, and neighbors, Winslow – and Louie – begin to grow and thrive.

I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard that Newbery Award-winning author Sharon Creech was working in a new book about a baby mini donkey (so cute!), and this sweet book is everything I wanted it to be.  Heartwarming, quiet, and full of love, make sure to add this little ray of sunshine and hope to your rainy day reading pile this fall.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

When the Penderwick family’s usual vacation to Cape Cod is upended by the last minute sale of their usual vacation rental, sisters Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty find themselves packed tightly into the car with their widowed father and large, lovable (though prone to eating things that aren’t normally considered edible, like maps) Hound Penderwick and headed to a summer cottage in the Berkshire Mountains for three weeks in August.  When they arrive (after only a bit of getting lost), they discover that their cottage is on the grounds of Arundel, a gorgeous estate surrounded by lovely gardens owned by the aloof, enormously wealthy Mrs. Tifton.

When fanciful, aspiring writer Jane spies a boy in the window of the third floor, her two older sisters think she’s just making things up again.  But when Skye crashes into a boy in a tunnel she discovers in the hedge between the cottage and the big mansion while out exploring (and blurts out an unfortunately worded description of Mrs. Tifton), it turns out Jane was right – there is a boy living in the house.  His name is Jeffrey, he’s just Skye’s age, and he’s awfully lonely with Mrs. Tifton for a mother.  Fortunately for him, his summer is about to get a lot more exciting with the addition of the Penderwick sisters to Arundel.

With the final Penderwicks book, The Penderwicks at Last, just hitting the shelves this spring, I decided it was finally time to bump this family up to the top of my reading list – and my only question is, why didn’t someone make me read these books sooner?!!  This first in the series has everything I love – plenty of (mis)adventures, fast and firm friendships, wonderful animals (there’s not just Hound, but two rabbits, a daisy-eating bull, and even a couple of horses!), fiercely loyal sisters, a great dad, and a world – and family! – that I can’t wait to revisit in the second book.  The Penderwicks feels like all the best books I love wrapped up in one – timeless as Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Little Women, but with a generous dash of modern zip.  Absolute perfection!

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

The last time ten-year-old Livy visited her grandma in Australia, she was five, and she doesn’t really remember anything about it.  Not Rufus, the green stuffed elephant she apparently carried everywhere, not the black chess pieces that also went everywhere with her, not the horses, and not the pigs.  What she does remember is something about chickens.  And bumping down the stairs.  Until she opens the closet door to her bedroom and finds Bob, who is more than a little disgruntled at being left in a closet for five years.

Bob isn’t a horse, or a pig, or even a chicken, even though he’s wearing a chicken suit made for him by five-year-old Livy.  And he’s not a zombie, even though he thinks he might be one (until he and Livy look up ‘zombie’ in the dictionary and are both thoroughly grossed out).  He’s short and green and has a unibrow and a smile that takes up his whole head.  Bob isn’t actually sure what he is, but he is sure that Livy was helping him figure it out before she left.  And he’s sure that if they can figure it out, together, then they’ll be able to find a way for him to go home, wherever that may be.

So begins Livy and Bob’s story of self-discovery and rediscovered friendship, from closet  to chicken coop to Gran’s well and into town, out to the neighboring farm and even an adventure in the bush.  Told in Livy and Bob’s alternate voices, this magical little gem of a novel about friendship and family will touch your heart – and make you smile with your whole head.  Make sure you add Bob to your reading pile this summer!