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Friday, December 18, 2020

MG Series Opener A Joyful Ode to the Ordinary

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Ryan Hart always tries to see the best in people and to make lemonade out of lemons—she's a budding chef, after all!  When her dad gets a new, less profitable job, for instance, it means the family has to move to a different part of Portland, Oregon, into an older house that isn't nearly as nice as their last one.  Ryan's disappointed that everything in her new home seems tired and used-up, but she's excited when she finds a treasure that gives her a mystery to solve.  On top of that, she has to figure out what her talent is so she can share it at the school's upcoming showcase.  She can't exactly perform "being nice" onstage, especially when the mere thought makes butterflies do wild gymnastics in her stomach.  As other challenges crop up in her life, Ryan has to find ways to overcome them using her usual creativity and positive attitude.  Can she find ways to make sunshine, even on cloudy days?

Ways to Make Sunshine, the first installment in a new middle-grade series by Renée Watson, is an upbeat, positive story that is as joyful as it is empowering.  Ryan Hart has been called the new Ramona Quimby, which fits.  While she's a good girl who's always trying to be kinder and more compassionate, she becomes realistically frustrated with daunting situations.  She's also got a mischievous side that helps make her feel authentic.  There's not a lot of plot in this series opener, but that's okay.  I actually love that the book portrays ordinary days with ordinary problems in the life of an ordinary family.  You don't see that a lot in children's novels that star Black families—most of the ones I've read tackle slavery, racism, gang violence, absent fathers, the Civil Rights movement, etc.  While there's nothing wrong with taking on those big issues, it's refreshing to find a book like Ways to Make Sunshine that depicts a typical Black family dealing with normal, everyday issues.  I wish this novel had been around when my daughter, who is bi-racial and adopted, was younger.  It would have helped her feel seen.  I'm thrilled that kids who look like her—as well as those who don't—will all be able to find themselves in this delightful series.

(Readalikes:  The Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. If she is anything like Ramona, she's sure to be a hit. My daughter loved those books.

  2. I like Watson's books, and I love the idea of Ramona for this generation


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