Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hilary McKay Has a New Book! YAY!

Sunrise was at 5:11 (someone really needs to let that one bird know.  Every morning at 3 am it starts in with its singular loud 3 note chirp.) and sunset will be at 9:10.

It is very gray and very warm and very windy outside my house today.  The only real pops of color are the hummingbird feeder and the hummingbirds' throats as they turn in the air.  Their feathers are  a mossy gray-green and I've only caught a glimpse of their scarlet throats when they are directly in front of me.  Like the other day when one of them flew to the window and seemingly stared in at us, hovering, as the cat backed right up to the edge of her window seat, jabbering in excitement.  Today there were two out over the fountain, bobbing and weaving to figure out who got which side of the bubbler.

There's this great series of books for middle grade readers, by Hilary McKay, that I just love.  They're funny, poignant, have really well-drawn characters, and really great, kooky parents that are still part of the story.  There's no real series name but they are all about the Casson family, an artistic, charming family of 5 children, a couple of parents and a slew of friends.

I first discovered Hilary McKay when a customer recommended reading The Exiles.  I know!  Someone recommended something new to ME!  That happens so rarely, and of course I couldn't not be in the know, that I had to find a copy and read it IMMEDIATELY!  I fell right in love.  It's an amazing and thrilling thing to find a family in a book you want to live with.

I could have happily spent forever reading about these girls sent away to live with their grandmother for the summer, exiled from their family for reasons they don't understand.  They aren't allowed to take anything much with them, but the no books rule really hurts!  Their parents are worried that they aren't playing enough, they don't do anything but read.  Oh, the horror of it all!  And Grandma's house is almost completely book-free, only Shakespeare and cookbooks.  The girls tackle their exile with little grace but eventually find themselves in all kinds of adventures and outdoor pursuits with a very prickly boy as a new friend.

There are three books in the Exiles series:  The Exiles, The Exiles at Home, and The Exiles in Love.  All are really good, but the first one is still my favorite.  Unfortunately, they are out of print so you'll need to haunt the used bookstores or check ABE books for copies, or try the library.  Grab 'em up when you find them, they are perfect summer reads, perfect for ages 9 and through 12 or 13.  Her books tend to have characters in the single digits up through the late teens so there's something to please everyone, especially the parents who should be reading these aloud to the family!

Our grown-up-book-group-that-reads-kid's-books chose to read Hilary's book Dog Friday.  It's hard to find a funny, light, book with some substance for discussion but this one worked very well.  Robin is absolutely terrified of dogs, having been savaged by one when he was a child. When new neighbors with a crowd of kids and a dog, a smelly, carpet-like dog, move in next door, it puts Robin smack dab in the middle of his own private hell.  When he finds an abandoned, starving dog on the beach, he has to figure out how to overcome his fears to rescue and save him.  Chaos ensues as the family next door rallies 'round to help him help his dog.  Dog Friday is the first of three books about the same kids and animals.  I liked this one best but they were all fun.  I believe all but Dog Friday are out of print, as well.  Follow the above directions about finding them, they are The Amber Cat, and Dolphin Luck.

And then our book group had to read Saffy's Angel.  Sigh.  We loved Saffy and her boisterous family, the Cassons.  They are all artists of one kind or another living in a house filled with paint and paper, lots of voices and wispy mom, hard working dad, bouncing and fighting and making up.  Saffy is different from the rest of her family and this book is the perfect invitation to come and visit and stay for awhile.

And now we get to the new book, the reason for this post:  Caddy's World.  The Casson family books were a nice, tidy stack of 5, a book for each child in the family, focusing on the trials and tribs of being only one of a riot of people contained in a very small house and now there's one more!

Caddy's World is a prequel to the rest of the series and I am so happy to be able to let you know that it's available now.  If you like loud, raucous, funny stories about kids growing up, you really need to read all of Hilary's books.  I'd say that most of her books are coming of age stories of one kind or another.  in this book, Caddy is 12 years old and her life is anything but stable.  There's a new baby coming, a fragile child that you will read about in Permanent Rose, friends coming and going, and her boy friend is not content with just one girl.  Caddy is finding her place in the world and realizing that it is a big place with room enough for all.  The rest of the books are: Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Forever Rose, and Caddy Ever After.  Except for Caddy's World, they are all available in paperback.  Ages 9 and up.  Great read-alouds.  Caddy's World is available now, in hardcover, for $16.99.  (All are published by McElderry Books.)

I love Hilary McKay's books, I'm sure that's pretty obvious by now, and I like them so much mostly because of the sense of fun and humor that are part and parcel of the story.  Families are funny and each of these families are a lot like ours.  There are big fights and lots of yelling and bad words but they are funny because they are familiar.  I especially appreciate how Ms. McKay shows us how flawed the parents are.  The books aren't all happy, fluffy, clouds and rainbows, the parents can be pretty awful and self-centered, but that's true of all families.  I think that sharing these stories with your kids could open up some interesting dialogue!  Give them a try!

(No recompense was received for the books reviewed in this post or this blog.)

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