The Holm siblings, particularly well known in the children’s book world as creators of the Babymouse and Squish series, take a step forward into a more sensitive topic in their latest book, Sunny Side Up.
When a family secret forces Sunny to spend summer vacation in Florida visiting her grandfather, she is initially excited. Florida! The Home of Disney World and pools and sun! But…Gramps lives at a place that’s full of old people. REALLY old people. Like ancient. And things were weird at home before she left. Her brother wasn’t who he used to be. And no one will talk about it. And Sunny thinks it’s all her fault that things have gone so wrong. Maybe the distraction of comic books, runaway cats, and disappearing neighbors will keep her occupied for a while, but sooner or later the truth has a way of coming out.
I have to say when I think about this book, the first thing I think of isn’t the artwork. The colors are vivid and the characters are well designed and feel like real people; I can just picture seeing Sunny and Gramps out in the real world. But the art works really well with the storytelling as it doesn’t overpower the story at all. Instead, it blends in, serving the purpose of carrying it directly into my brain and entrancing me with it. Then at the very end of the story, when the secrets come to light, the art takes a step up. It helps make the words even stronger as we see Sunny erupt from all of the emotions she’s been carrying around, buried and hidden.
One of the hardest subjects to talk about in any book, particularly for younger readers, is the subject of drug and alcohol abuse by a loved one. Sunny Side Up does this well without becoming overly preachy or tying up the ending too neatly.The Holms wrote this book based upon real life experiences, fears, and thoughts from their own childhood.
At its core, this book is really about letting young readers know that it’s okay to need help and it’s okay to talk about things. If not with your family, then with someone you trust. Secrets are heavy burdens and they should not be borne alone. The Holms handle the story with grace, tact, and a sensitivity that more writers should follow. While the book ends on a positive note, it doesn’t magically fix everything. Instead, we simply know that Sunny has taken a step forward and is ready for what comes next.
Sunny Side Up
by Jennifer L Holm
Art by Matthew Holm
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12