HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Summer of the Gypsy Moths
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Publisher: Balzer Bray, 2012
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Pennypacker, Sara. Summer of the Gypsy Moths (published in 2012 by Balzer Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). Stella is an eleven-almost-twelve-year-old girl. Her father left when she was two, so she and her mother had been living with her grandmother, but her mother has always been “restless” and “off-track,” often leaving for long periods of time. When Grams dies and Stella’s mother goes off again, Stella is sent to live with her grandmother’s sister, Great-Aunt Louise, in Cape Cod, MA. Louise, who manages a group of cottages next door to her house for a man named George, has also become a foster mother to an orphaned girl named Angel, but Stella and Angel just don’t get along very well. Stella’s rule about Angel was, “Wherever she was, I wasn’t.”
Then all of a sudden, Louise dies. Stella and Angel are so afraid of what might happen to them that they hide the fact, secretly burying the body in the backyard, telling George along with the renters of the cottages and everyone else that Louise has broken her foot, and then creating an imaginary boyfriend with whom Louise is supposedly gone all the time. At first, Angel threatens to run away and find her aunt who has come from Portugal to the United States but then decides to stay. They start to work together to take care of the cottages, and Stella learns how to tend Louise’s prize blueberry bushes which have been attacked by gypsy moths. But how long will they be able to carry on with this act? And what will the results be when people finally do find out about Louise?
Interestingly enough, author Sara Pennypacker, whose “Clementine” chapter books are best sellers, takes this rather bizarre, even macabre, scenario and fashions an “all’s-well-that-end’s-well” type of conclusion. However, some parents may wonder if they really want their middle-school age daughters reading a story about hiding and burying a dead body. Angel uses the word “crap” quite frequently as well as the name of Jesus as an exclamation; it’s in a Portuguese phrase, but it’s still there. A couple of times people are said to “curse,” though no curse words are actually used. There are instances of lying, a mention of people drinking beers, a reference to a family with two moms, and a scene where Angel wears a racy bra. Today, I guess that children’s books have to be about dysfunctional families to be considered “socially relevant.” I realize that dysfunctional families exist, but it makes me appreciate more and more the older books that I read where families are presented in a godly fashion.