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Book Review: One Summer Up North by John Owens

Sometimes, you discover a book that is all kinds of serendipity! This lovely, wordless picture book follows one girl’s trip to the Boundary Waters with her parents. Adventure with them through Minnesota’s own unique wilderness area as they paddle, portage, camp, fish, forage (mmmmm… wild blueberries!), and stargaze. Watch for wildlife too – there are all sorts of hidden surprises on each page!

Having just returned from a week up north in the BWCA, Minnesota author illustrator John Owens’s book felt just as perfect and peaceful as an evening spent watching the sun go down and the stars come out in all that inky vastness of sky. Each page took me right back to one of my favorite places in the world – that lo-o-o-ng portage, those funny mergansers, and those soft, misty mornings on the water. For anyone who dreams of pines and aspen, loon calls echoing over the water, and a warm campfire and a good meal at the end of a long paddle, One Summer Up North is a must-savor by adventurers of all ages!

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Things haven’t really been the same for Lucy Everhart and her dad since her mom died five years ago.  A renowned biologist, Lucy’s mom was on a boat tracking great white sharks off the north Atlantic coast when she died.  Lucy’s dad is a police detective in their small coastal Massachusetts town and a rescue diver who works all up and down the coast, which means he isn’t home too much, but her neighbors are always there – old Mr. Patterson on one side, hanging out on his porch listening to his police scanner, and the Kellys on the other, including Fred Kelly, Lucy’s best friend, and his two sisters.  Mrs. Kelly took care of Lucy after her mom died, when things were really bad, and Lucy feels almost like part of the Kelly family.

It’s summer, and Lucy and Fred are hard at work on their summer project, a field guide to Cape Ann wildlife (Fred writes the descriptions, while Lucy illustrates), when local fisherman Sookie catches a great white in one of his nets and hauls it to shore.  The two head to the dock to get a good look at the shark, and that night, while trying to get the illustrations right, Lucy catches some old footage on the news of her mom talking about great whites moving into the north Atlantic.  Footage she’s never seen before – which sets her down a path of discovery about her mom’s work with sharks, Fred by her side.  As the two dive deep into shark research, Lucy starts to feel like she’s getting to know her mom the biologist, not just her mom the mom.

But when another tragedy rips a new hole in Lucy’s heart, this time with serrated edges, she has to fight hard to hold on.  Her mom’s research feels like a life line, and finding answers her mom didn’t get a chance to investigate feels like a way for Lucy to keep swimming, even in the dark waters of grief.  With the field guide and her pencils in hand, her mom’s unanswered questions forming the path ahead, and help from more than a few unexpected places, Lucy slowly begins to find her way forward.

Shark Week is still a month away, but you can get a jump start with this fabulous debut novel by Minnesota author Kate Allen!  The Line Tender is an exploration of family, friendship, love, loss, and chock full of the science of sharks.  A great summer read (although maaaybe not for a trip to an ocean…), there are tons of shark and other marine biology facts in this novel that were super fascinating, and Lucy’s shark illustrations fill the space between each chapter.  With a mystery or two, quirky neighbors, good friends, a road trip, and lots of sharks, this is definitely one to add to your summer stack!

Giant Pumpkin Suite by Melanie Heuiser Hill

Giant pumpkins, Bach and his cello suites, musicals, kintsugi, tap dancing, Charlotte’s Web, and the Minnesota State Fair.  What do all these things have in common?  You’ll find them all in the pages of Minnesota author Melanie Heuiser Hill’s debut novel, Giant Pumpkin Suite!

Rose and Thomas are twins, but you’d never guess it.  At twelve years old, Rose is 17 inches taller than her twin.  She loves reading, most especially Charlotte’s Web, and is a math whiz, taking classes at the university.  Thomas is good at figuring out how things go together, hates reading, and never passed his multiplication tables.  Rose prefers to stay inside, while Thomas is always running and jumping from place to place.  They’re not even in the same grade at school – Thomas was held back a year, and Rose skipped ahead.

Rose is also an incredibly gifted cellist.  Fiercely focused, she has her heart set on winning the Bach Cello Suites Competition in a few weeks.  The prize?  The winner will be awarded a fellowship with Maestro Harris Waldenstein, a renowned Bach scholar and cellist.  Rose loves Bach – the order, the complexity, the math jokes and puzzles hidden in his music, the loveliness and the cleverness of it all – and she just knows she is meant to win the cello suites competition.

But when Rose and Thomas’s next door neighbor Mr. Pickering has an accident that leaves them temporarily in charge of a giant pumpkin seed, Rose’s summer begins to change.  As Thomas helps Mr. Pickering with his pumpkin project, the borders of their lives begin to expand just like the fast-growing leaves of the giant pumpkin in their neighbor’s back yard.  At first, Rose isn’t too sure how she feels about all this extra pumpkin stuff going on, especially since it isn’t long before the whole neighborhood seems to be trooping through Rose’s life just as aggressively as the the pumpkin is vining.  But when another accident changes everything for Rose, it might just be the pumpkin project that helps her grow into who she’s meant to be.

Books and music are my two most favorite things in the world, and this novel has everything that makes my heart hum with happiness.  Family, friends, and neighbors all come together to make Rose’s journey not just a solo story, but a whole symphony of voices telling a tale sure to make you smile, laugh, cry, and, when you’re done, hug the book and download some Bach to play to your plants.  Don’t miss it!