Caretakers (New York Times Book Review)
By ELISABETH EGAN
Published: May 11, 2012
'Summer of the Gypsy Moths,' by Sara Pennypacker
It wasn't easy to read "Summer of the Gypsy Moths" while
living with an 11-year-old whose first literary love was
the "Clementine" series, also written by Sara Pennypacker.
The third time I retrieved my copy from my daughter's bedroom
- a tween lair crammed with bobblehead turtles, Tootsie
Roll-scented lip balms and shells from every beach she's
ever visited - I realized this book was the first of my
literary possessions she's ever truly coveted.
And with good reason: Pennypacker is a -Beverly Cleary-caliber
girl-whisperer; she can weave a yarn both funny and touching,
with all the beloved, timeworn themes at the ready: friendship,
family, loyalty, loss and independence. In "Summer of the
Gypsy Moths," we meet Stella and Angel, 12-year-old polar
opposites (or so they think) who are living with Stella's
great-aunt Louise, caretaker of the Linger Longer Cottage
Colony on Cape Cod. Stella, who craves the orderly life
instilled by "Hints From Heloise" columns, lands there after
being abandoned repeatedly by her flaky mother; Angel is
an orphaned foster child with a prickly attitude and a penchant
for mournful Portuguese fado ballads.
When Louise dies suddenly, the girls come up with a cockamamie
scheme to bury her in the backyard so they can manage the
cottages for the summer themselves, collecting tips from
renters. They assume (incorrectly, it turns out) that Stella
and her mother stand to inherit the house, so their plan
is to dodge foster care by concealing Louise's death until
the absentee mom returns from California or Mexico or wherever
Adult readers may need to suspend disbelief in the viability
of this plot; for children, however, the setup is a triumph
of freedom and ingenuity - the country-mouse version of
E. L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil
E. Frankweiler." In that story, Claudia and Jamie fish coins
out of the fountains at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and
outsmart security guards by standing on toilets at closing
time; in this variation, Stella and Angel dig for clams
when they're hungry and stave off concern from George Nickerson,
owner of the Linger Longer cottages, by pretending Louise
is sick. Or that she broke her foot, or that she's out with
her boyfriend. Oh, and that suspicious mound in the middle
of the garden? Just pumpkins. Even when they're bickering
like biddies, these two make a crafty team.
In Pennypacker's island world, where Stella and Angel's
grim, grown-up problems are juxtaposed against the backdrop
of their tenants' sunny beach vacations, logistics are not
the point; connection is. Stella looks out over the cottages
from her bedroom window, having just dined on tomato soup
while the families next door grill hamburgers and roast
marshmallows. Her loneliness is heartbreaking: "An emptiness
welled up inside me. It felt like hunger, but it wasn't
in my stomach." You can't help rooting for these industrious
hoteliers as they slowly turn away from the crutches helping
them limp along - Stella's collection of household hints
and Angel's music and never-ending supply of Dum-Dum lollipops
- and toward each other. They set up a baby-sitting service;
they frolic with sea gulls; they try to fend off an infestation
of caterpillars in blueberry bushes planted 20 years earlier
by Stella's mom.
Once the girls form a united front, everything gets easier.
Stella even learns to trust George, who gently articulates
the book's most important theme while examining a shattered
sand dollar left behind in the cottage called Tern: "See,
broken things always have a story, don't they?" She also
learns that appearances are not always what they seem. The
carefree teenagers on the beach might look at her and think
she's just another kid with her nose in a book: "They'd
never suspect the secret I was hiding. I looked up and down
the beach and wondered if maybe everyone could be hiding
some big secret. I sank into the warm sand, smiling at the
idea of a beach full of people, tied together by their secret-hiding."
Although not everybody lives happily ever after (rest in
peace, Louise), there is still plenty of joy to go around.
Change comes as a result of sheer girl power and gumption.
By the time the blueberries ripen, the girls have sprung
themselves from their Charlie Brown-style universe, where
adults appear only on the periphery and are largely useless.
Their caretakers may not be the people you expect, but they
are the ones Stella and Angel wisely choose for themselves.
Elisabeth Egan, a former books editor at Self magazine,
is now an editor at Amazon.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths - Received a *STARRED
REVIEW* in the January 15th issue of Kirkus.
Review Issue Date: January 15, 2012
Online Publish Date: January 4, 2012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Price ( Hardcover ): $15.99
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-06-196420-6
Desperate times call for desperate measures indeed when,
one summer afternoon on Cape Cod, 11-year-old Stella finds
her sole caretaker, her great-aunt Louise, dead in her chair.
Stella, who's been abandoned by her mom, and Louise's 12-year-old
foster child Angel know the second they call 911 they'll
be hauled off by the authorities... and the thought of having
to leave a good home for who knows where is too much to
bear. So they bury Louise in the garden. The suspense escalates.
How long will Stella and Angel be able to keep Louise's
death a secret in a small community? Will dogs dig up the
body? Will the girls be able to pull off the task of assuming
Louise's duties as manager of the Linger Longer Cottage
Colony? How long can they survive eating relish, stale croutons
and "Froot Loop dust"? The unfolding story is both deliciously
intense and entertaining. Stella, an order-seeking girl
whose oracle is Heloise (of hint fame), not only knows how
to keep a corpse from smelling (Febreze), she employs old
pantyhose and Crisco to keep the gypsy moths off Louise's
beloved blueberry bushes. Stella's poetic, philosophical
observations of the world are often genuinely moving, and
tough-on-the-outside Angel is her perfect foil. A suspenseful,
surprising novel of friendship and family from the creator
of the popular Clementine series. (Fiction. 9-12)
Summer of the
Gypsy Moths - Received a *STARRED REVIEW* from Publisher
Author: Sara Pennypacker
Published: HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray
Two dissimilar girls forge a genuine friendship under strenuous
circumstances in Pennypacker's memorable, tense novel. The
story unfolds in the fresh, credible voice of 11-year-old
Stella, who's been taken from her unstable single mother
and sent to live with her great-aunt Louise, also caregiver
to an orphaned foster child named Angel. The girls barely
speak to each other until Louise unexpectedly dies and,
fearing they'll be placed in another foster home, they bury
her body in the garden and try to hide that she has died.
Throughout, Pennypacker (the Clementine series) skillfully
meshes the poignant and the comedic. Identifying with Louise's
blueberry bushes ("I knew how it felt when the one person
tending you disappeared"), Stella vows to save them from
lethal gypsy moths. Simul-taneously becoming self-sufficient
and dependent on one another, Stella and Angel bond as they
take over Louise's housecleaning job and try to stave off
starvation. Beautifully evoked, the novel's Cape Cod setting
plays a focal role in this richly layered tale of loss,
resiliency, and belonging. Ages 8-12. Agent: Steven Malk,
Writers House. (May)
Publishers Weekly - Children's Bookshelf
Susan Capaldi, children's book consultant at Between the
Covers in Harbor Springs, Mich., shares her enthusiasm for
Sara Pennypacker's Summer of the Gypsy Moths, a May release
from Balzer + Bray.
When I heard that Sara Pennypacker had a new book being
published, I immediately thought, "Great! An entertaining
summer read. Who better creates spunky and unforgettable
characters?" Well, Summer of the Gypsy Moths delivers spunky
and unforgettable characters-and much, much more. Pennypacker
is a brilliant storyteller, weaving together people and
place, dreams and heartaches, secrets and connections. The
story of tweens Stella and Angel unfolds with humor in the
midst of tragic events that allow an unlikely friendship
Ever-optimistic Stella has moved in with her great-aunt
Louise, who lives on Cape Cod and manages four identical
vacation cottages. Louise is a salty yet loving woman who
also has taken in foster child Angel in hopes the girls
will become friends. Instead, the two are like oil and water.
Stella thrives on routine and can quote just about any of
Heloise's helpful hints. She is eternally hopeful that her
irresponsible and fragile mother will return to live with
them. Angel, orphaned and guarded, feigns a tough exterior,
yet is starving for comfort and a home. When Louise suddenly
dies, the girls must depend on each other. Determined to
survive, they form a bond and make some unusual decisions,
including keeping Louise's death a secret and maintaining
the cottages themselves.
"All broken things have
a story," says George, a kind neighbor who befriends the
girls. And Pennypacker's novel is a wonderfully told story.
This is the perfect book for fans of Sarah Weeks, Katherine
Hannigan, and Jeanne Birdsall.
Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker. HarperCollins/Balzer
+ Bray, $15.99 May ISBN 978-0-06-196420-6
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6 - Ever since the death of her beloved grandmother,
11-year-old Stella has battled to maintain a sense of stability,
to "clutch hold" to the spinning Earth. She explains that
an unknown father and a terminally irresponsible mother
have made her "personal gravity" "a little weak" and left
her feeling rootless. Her anxiety is just beginning to lessen
now that she shares a Cape Cod home with her taciturn Great-Aunt
Louise and a foster girl named Angel whom Stella considers
like "cactus...all spines." Pennypacker beautifully illuminates
Stella's physical experience with vivid, unfussy prose,
allowing readers to feel her nervousness and longing and
her vigorous commitment to cleanliness and order (she even
identifies a folder of hints from Heloise as her most precious
When Louise dies suddenly, Stella and Angel secretly bury
the body in order to stay in her house, managing the vacation
cottage colony next door and surviving on tourists' leftovers,
in hopes of buying time for each girl's desired caregiver
to provide a suitable home. The book effectively evokes
the gritty, sun-bleached textures and salt breezes of its
seaside setting, a vacation like contrast to the strenuous,
desperate independence of the two girls. The understanding
and emotional bond that grows between them develops with
believable fluctuations and a light touch, as does the suspense
of how long two kids can continue alone without being caught
or getting a ride to the grocery store.
Pennypacker's marvelously tactile writing animates Stella's
narration and brings both engaging, resilient, and resourceful
characters to life. - Robbin E. Friedman, Chappaqua, NY
Journal, April 20, 2012 - BOOKSHELF
Happily Home Alone By MEGHAN COX GURDON
There is a rich tradition of stories in which resourceful
children make a home for themselves without (or despite)
the adults around them. Sara Pennypacker makes a touching
contribution to the field with "Summer of the Gypsy Moths"
(Balzer + Bray, 275 pages, $15.99). Like Pippi Longstocking,
the two 11-year-olds at the heart of this novel for readers
ages 8 to 13 have no one to brush their hair or feed them
properly when their guardian abruptly cannot care for them.
Like the runaways in E.L. Konigsburg's "From the Mixed-Up
Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" (1967), Stella and Angel
discover that they can hide in plain sight, fooling the
grown-ups they encounter and avoiding being sent to foster
care. And like the heroine of Julie Andrews Edwards's "Mandy"
(1971), the girls' longing for a true home manifests itself
in a determination to coax some straggly plants back to
Here the setting is a string of vacation cottages on Cape
Cod, the plants are blueberry bushes threatened by devouring
caterpillars, and Stella and Angel, who have been thrown
together for the summer, begin by detesting each other.
When circumstance and the shared pain of abandonment conspire
to make the girls work together, they find that they are
surprisingly compatible and independent. Even so, children
should not be alone, and it is weepingly happy at the end
when, as in all the best orphan books, these two brave hearts
find the place they have yearned for most.
New York Times Book Review: "Pennypacker is a -Beverly
Cleary-caliber girl-whisperer; she can weave a yarn both
funny and touching, with all the beloved, timeworn themes
at the ready: friendship, family, loyalty, loss and independence."
Publishers Weekly: "...Pennypacker's novel is a wonderfully
told story. This is the perfect book for fans of Sarah
Weeks, Katherine Hannigan, and Jeanne Birdsall."
School Library Journal: "Pennypacker's marvelously tactile
writing animates [the] narration and brings both engaging,
resilient, and resourceful characters to life."