Toddlers often squeal upon first seeing the ocean, jumping up and down as the tide tickles their toes. Older kids charge forward into the waves with a whoop. But every now and then, a little girl stands on the shoreline with arms outstretched, as if to embrace the sweep of sky and water. Her expression is one of awe and outright joy.
That would be Alice Rice, the beguiling heroine of Kevin Henkes’ Junonia (HarperCollins Children’s Books), a sweet and gentle story set on Sanibel Island.
An only child growing up in Wisconsin, Alice looks forward every year to the winter week when she returns with her parents to the beach cottage called Scallop. Because she will turn 10 while at the beach, Alice has high expectations as they cross the bridge to the island and spot the first pelican.
“The bird was so odd and silly looking, a mysterious, mesmerizing wonder. Alice reached out, pressing her palms flat against the half-opened window. She’d seen pelicans before, every year that she had been here, but when you see something only once a year it’s always new, as if you’re seeing it for the first time.’’
But some things have changed at Sanibel this year. Not all of the usual neighbors are on hand, and Alice’s beloved “Aunt Kate’’ – her mother’s college roommate — has decided to stay in the cottage next door because she is bringing her new boyfriend and his 6-year-old daughter Mallory. Alice reluctantly makes friends with the younger child, taking her shelling and patiently identifying their discoveries. Alice hopes this will be the year she at last finds the rare junonia shell – now that would be a real birthday present.
But Mallory disrupts Alice’s birthday party, and Alice experiences a jumble of emotions as she turns 10. She is growing up, and it’s not quite what she expected.
Henkes, who has written and illustrated many best-selling picture books (Chrysanthemum, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse) as well as the award-winning Olive’s Ocean for older readers, writes lyrically of natural wonders and childhood feelings. He finds the extraordinary in the ordinary.
The deceptively simple illustrations that begin each chapter complement Alice’s small adventures on Sanibel, where Henkes and his family vacation annually. He says it is a special place. And Junonia is a special book.
Open Book: I read a digital copy of Kevin Henkes’ Junonia (HarperCollins Children’s Books) through NetGalley. It brought back a lot of memories of childhood trips to the beach,