Caterpillar Summer.

Caterpillar Summer. A charming summer seaside story for middle graders.

Caterpillar Summer is a novel for middle graders written by Gillian McDunn. McDunn takes on family issues of loss, children’s special needs, and extended family dynamics.

Caterpillar SummerCat is the responsible older sister, stepping in to take on more responsibilities – and more and more. Cat is working to help her mother manage the family after their loss of Cat’s Dad. This would be tough in any family. But Cat’s stressful situation is compounded by the needs of her younger brother, nicknamed Chicken. Chicken needs a lot of structure, consistency, and support – things Cat steps in to provide.

“On a good day, Chicken liked to wander. On a bad day, Chicken would bolt. But no matter what, Cat loved him as wide as the Golden Gate Bridge, as deep as the sea floor, and as fierce as a shark bite.”

Summer awaits! The story begins as school ends for the year

Cat is excited about summer vacation, when their family will journey from their San Francisco home to visit Cat’s friends in Atlanta. Plans go awry when Cat’s friend has their own family crisis. Instead of hosting Cat’s family in Atlanta, the friends must journey to India. So Cat, Chicken and their mother are in Atlanta, where their mother is committed to work. Now they have no plans for Cat and Chicken. What will they do?

“New things can be scary, but they can also be fun.”

Welcome to North Carolina

Caterpillar SummerCat and Chicken’s mom makes a surprise phone call, to her parents and the grandparents Cat and Chicken do not know. Lily and Macon live on the coast of North Carolina at the fictional Gingerbread Island. Cat realizes quickly that her mom and Macon do not get along. At all. There are secrets in the past, and Cat is determined to learn them.

Along the way, Cat learns a few things about herself, too. Her grandmother provides some insight one morning, as Cat struggles with trusting her grandparents to care for Chicken so she can spend the summer as a kid.

“Holding a family together is a quiet kind of work….sometimes that work doesn’t get noticed so much.”

McDunn’s story of Cat and Chicken’s summer adventures is one of family and forgiveness, set against the backdrop of the North Carolina coast. I chose to read this in the summer, longing for carefree days at the beach. The story gave me those days, and it gave me a great quote from Cat’s mom as she talks with Cat about growing up:

“We have to keep talking to each other so we can figure it out. And the second we figure it out, you’ll grow up a bit more and we’ll have to talk again.”

With boys turning 18 and 16 in August, that’s a good reminder for me.

It’s already mid-July?!?

Summer is moving fast! Make sure to check our calendar for key dates, including SAT and ACT test dates, start dates for fall tutoring, and more. Contact us if we can help!


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