I love Lisa Graff. Her books, The Thing about Georgie and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, were instant hits with both my students and me when I read them aloud. Graff has such an understanding of whatever character she is writing about. As someone who tends to read books that are more character driven, I think Lisa Graff is amazing with her character development.
So, when I heard her latest book, Umbrella Summer, was out, I quickly ordered it and then waited impatiently, eagerly awaiting the delivery of this book. When it got here, I was busy preparing for two different book clubs, so I had to set it aside until I finished those preparations. Yesterday afternoon, though, I finally had some time alone, so I picked up Umbrella Summer, settled into the loveseat on my screened porch and began reading... Oh my gosh!!!!
The first thing that I was drawn to was the front cover of this book. I love the font that was used for the title, but better yet is the simple light blue background on which you see 2 legs in hot pink rainboots. The upper body is hidden by the most darling polka dot umbrella. At this point, I'm just loving the visual artistry. As I read the book, however, the symbolic artistry took my breath away.
In the first chapter, I learned some very important information about the main character, Annie. First, her brother Jared died in the past year, and the day that would have been his birthday is coming soon. Second, his dying has caused Annie to become incredibly worried about safety. Whenever she rides her bike, she wears elbow pads, knee pads, bike helmet (good idea), and Ace bandages for her ankles. That is in addition, to the other band-aids she has plastered all over her body. In fact, she wears all this even though she walks her bike down hills. The reader finds out a little later, Annie wears her bike helmet and Ace bandages when she's walking somewhere, even without her bike. We also find out that Annie loves reading a book that tells about all sorts of possible ailments -- their symptoms and how to remedy them.
Annie's family (mom and dad), best friend, neighbor (who is also her Junior Sunbird leader), an annoying boy acquaintance, Jared's best friend, and her new neighbor that just moved in across the street are all pivotal characters in this story as Annie tries to navigate through her grief. Each one plays such an important part in her healing.
I don't want to ruin the story for you. It is too delicious for you not to experience some of the events without any preconceived notions.
I will say that Umbrella Summer was a "wet" one for me because I needed numerous tissues to wipe away tears at one point -- I am an emotional reader, but Graff tugged at my heartstrings in multiple ways. The umbrella as an analogy for how to live our lives is a powerful one. I'm sure if I choose to read this aloud to next year's class (which I probably will), I will be modeling how good writing can affect people deeply and that tears might sometime happen.
Lisa Graff has now written three separate stories, each unique with their own characters, and all amazing!!! Umbrella Summer is a must-add book to anyone's collection!!! I can't wait to introduce this author to my students through read aloud, knowing that I also have two other amazing books by her to recommend to students afterward.
See Franki's (A Year of Reading) post about same book here.