Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer of the Swans

Byars, Betsy. 1970. Summer of the Swans.

This 1970 Newbery Award winner is still showing up on school summer reading lists, so as I’ve been scrambling to order enough books for all the local school children, I took the opportunity to place a hold on Summer of the Swans for myself.

Summer of the Swans is the classic story of Sara, a young, angst-filled teenager, who lives with her brain-damaged younger brother, Charlie, her older sister, Wanda, and her Aunt Willie. In the midst of a difficult summer in which Sara struggles with her self-confidence and indeed, her sense of self, she learns, through Charlie’s disappearance, the importance and true measure of love, family, and self.

This is a timeless story; although, because of its age (first published in 1970 with numerous reprintings), it can almost read as historical fiction. Sara’s friend, Mary, does her hair up in “rollers” to attend a party. Charlie is called “retarded.” Aunt Willie, flustered by Charlie’s disappearance, makes an “operator-assisted” call; and there are references to The Jolly Green Giant, Gentle Ben, and Green Acres. When I asked a young colleague if she knew of these television icons of the 60s and 70s, she assumed that they were books. I wondered if the book still has resonance for a generation reared on iTunes and Wii. My daughter, however, affirmed for me that Summer of the Swans (required reading in her school), was a great book. I agree – a gentle, timeless, positive novel.

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