By Kevin Henkes
Greenwillow Books, 2011
When on their annual winter holiday on Sanibel Island, Alice Rice and her parents commemorate each special ritual, from the first heron to the first step in the ocean to Alice’s birthday. Alice’s “family was small, but in Florida, she pretended that her family was big.” Except this year, her Florida family has both grown and shrunk, as cherished friends skip the annual vacation because there is “[t]oo much schoolwork to be missed,” and new additions arrive, disrupting Alice’s cherished routines. As she eagerly awaits her 10th birthday, Alice is caught off guard by the changes. She sees the adults around her, parents and friends alike, with a different pair of eyes; getting older doesn’t look easy, as evidenced by the often grumpy ninety-something-year-old Mr. Barden. But being young is no picnic either, as Alice is reminded often by newcomer Mallory, Alice’s “Aunt” Kate’s boyfriend’s six-year-old daughter. Alice learns that sometimes people disappoint you, and sometimes, you disappoint yourself. In this quiet story, Henkes captures the ten year-old soul, and Alice raises many questions about life that she’s not ready to answer. And that’s okay. For while she never finds the rare junonia shell she longs for, she relishes the fact that “[i]t’s right now. I’m ten.”
- Tracing Connections. In March of this year, while speaking in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kevin Henkes said that each book leads to the next. Have your students examine the picture books A Good Day, Old Bear, and My Garden. What connections do they make, in Henkes’s artwork, stories, or themes, to Junonia?
- Making Predictions. Each chapter starts with a blue sketch, rendered by Henkes. Have children predict the role the sketched item might have in the chapter and why that specific item was chosen for the chapter sketch. The book trailer (see below) features Henkes talking about these illustrations.
- Exploring Families in Henkes’s Work. Historically, many children’s novels feature child protagonists acting on their own; indeed, many older children’s novels have orphans at their center. Do parents always need to fade into the background? Should they? In Henkes’s novels, they usually don’t, and Junonia is no exception. While your students read Junonia, or when they are done, read aloud from two of Henkes’s previous novels, Sun and Spoon or The Birthday Room, in which the male protagonists are ten and twelve respectively. What role do parents play? In what ways are the main characters left on their own to work their worries, grief, or growing pains? In what ways do the parents serve as sounding boards, mentors, and companions?
- Family Rituals. For much of the novel, Alice must adjust to unexpected changes to a cherished family tradition. What are some of your students’ family traditions? What makes them special? Who participates? Have they experienced unexpected changes, too? Have students write about these special rituals and compile the reflections in a class book.
- Gift Giving. In Junonia, Alice receives many gifts that aren’t purchased, that she cherishes all the same: gelato spoons collected during an Italian vacation, old coins, a seashell on a string necklace, and a sand heart constructed on the beach, decorated with shells and sea glass. Have students share stories about special gifts that they have given or received that didn’t involve buying something. What makes these gifts so special?
- Rarity. On page 163, Alice wonders “what made something rare.” Explore some of the online resources below to uncover why finding junonia shells on Sanibel Island is so rare that each person who does gets his/her picture in the local paper! Next, have students list what they consider “rare” in their lives, and ponder why those items are valued.
- Finding Family. There are many Florida friends whom Alice considers family, although they are not actual family members, including her special “Aunt” Kate, and “[t]hey didn’t exactly look like they all belonged together the way some families did.” In today’s world, it is likely that families find themselves living apart from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. How do families keep in touch in the digital age? What friends serve as substitute extended family? Have your students create family trees that include both actual family members and friends that feel like family.
Kevin Henkes’s Website
Kevin Henkes on Junonia
Sanibel and Captiva Chamber of Commerce: Guide to Shelling
Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, Sanibel Island
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
“Ding” Darling Society
You Tube Video – Guide to Searching for Shells on Sanibel, Courtesy of Ocean’s Reach Condomiums
Dance, S. P. (2002) Shells: The photographic recognition guide to shells of the world. Ill. by M. Ward. New York: D.K. Publishing.
- A field guide for identifying shells.
DeCamillo, K. (2001). The tiger rising. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick.
- Protagonist Rob discovers a caged tiger in the woods behind the Florida hotel in which he lives with his father. Rob, with help from his new friend Sistine, work to free the tiger and wind up rebuilding their lives in the process.
Defelice, C. (2005). The missing manatee. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux.
- Skeet discovers a dead manatee in a Florida river, and devotes his spring break to finding out who is responsible.
Fogelin, A. (2002). My brother’s hero. Atlanta: Peachtree.
- Thirteen-year-old Ben, like Alice, makes new discoveries about himself and his family while on vacation in Florida.
Hiaasen, C. (2005). Flush. New York: Knopf.
- Noah and Abby, brother and sister, secretly gather evidence that a floating casino is illegally polluting water in the Florida Keys.
----(2002). Hoot. New York: Knopf.
- Upon moving to Florida, Roy befriends with a brother and sister team determined to stop the construction of a pancake restaurant on the habit of burrowing owls.
Holm, J. (2010). Turtle in paradise. New York: Random House.
- It’s 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, and eleven-year-old Turtle must readjust to living in Key West, Florida, with relatives she’s never met.
Konigsburg, E. L. (1996). The view from Saturday. New York: Atheneum.
- This novel of friendship and camaraderie also includes wonderful scenes of sea turtles set on Florida beaches.