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Binny for Short

Binny for Short

4.0 1
by Hilary McKay

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This tender, sweet, and hilarious novel about growing up with a loving family and a perfectly rambunctious dog “balances moments of hilarity with poignancy” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

When she was eight, Binny’s life was perfect: She had her father’s wonderful stories and Max, the best dog ever. But after her


This tender, sweet, and hilarious novel about growing up with a loving family and a perfectly rambunctious dog “balances moments of hilarity with poignancy” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

When she was eight, Binny’s life was perfect: She had her father’s wonderful stories and Max, the best dog ever. But after her father’s sudden death, money is tight, and horrible Aunty Violet decides to give Max away—he is just too big for their cramped new life. Binny knows she can’t get her dad back, but she never stops missing Max, or trying to find him. Then, when she’s eleven, everything changes again.

Aunty Violet has died, and left Binny and her family an old house in a seaside town. Binny is faced with a new crush, a new frenemy, and…a ghost? It seems Aunty Violet may not have completely departed. It’s odd being haunted by her aunt, but there is also the warmth of a busy and loving mother, a musical older sister, and a hilarious little brother, who is busy with his experiments. And his wetsuit. And his chickens.

You’ll delight in getting to know Binny and her hilarious, heartwarming family in this charming novel, which received three starred reviews.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/26/2013
Fans of McKay's Casson books will warmly welcome the delightful and eccentric Cornwallis family, who move into a seaside cottage bequeathed to them by cranky Aunty Violet. Though the family has been penniless and has shuffled from one cramped apartment to another since Mr. Cornwallis's death, 11-year-old Binny balks at living in the house because the late Violet gave away Binny's beloved dog. Binny's deceased nemesis, with whom she has imaginary conversations, becomes an unlikely catalyst for the girl's salvation; after the move, Binny finds much-needed friends in the angry, lonely boy next door; a handsome older boy who lets her join the crew on his boat; and Kate, a kindly cafe owner. While Binny's engaging relationships with these characters is a bonus, the humorous and poignant interactions among Binny's caring older sister, independent younger brother, and insightful mother are the heart of the novel. Player's brassy b&w illustrations sit a bit oddly against McKay's elegant and often dreamlike prose, but it's a minor off note in a well-crafted story that balances moments of hilarity with poignancy. Ages 8–12. (July)
"This novel combines effervescent everyday-life storytelling with subtle exploration of the ripples of loss that shape young lives, and McKay fans will celebrate the introduction of an engaging new heroine."
Starred Review Horn Book
*"McKay’s masterful control of the mayhem is ingenious; may the Cornwallis family, like the Conroys and the Cassons before them, have many adventures to come."
The Guardian
"Tremendously entertaining."
The Daily Telegraph
"Try Hilary McKay. Her books are so good you want to climb inside the covers and live there."
The Daily Mail
"A sensitive exploration of friendship, grief, and the often hilarious rough and tumble of families adjusting to change. More Binny please."
Shelf Awareness, starred review - Jennifer M. Brown
*"With humor, poignancy and a keen insight into human nature and family dynamics, Hilary McKay...moves in with the Cornwallises."
Children's Literature - Debra Lampert-Rudman
Stories are key here, from the start when the narrator declares: "Some stories are very important. Sometimes stories can save your life." Eleven-year-old Belinda Cornwallis loved hearing her father's stories, particularly one about a girl hero called "Binny." This beautifully written novel by award-winning author Hilary McKay and illustrator Micah Player reveals that those we love are always with us and "nothing vanishes." Despite the deaths of Binny's father, grandmother, and wicked Aunty Violet all within the first 50 pages, and separation from her beloved border collie Max, who is given away, this 291-page middle grade novel brims with a glorious British seaside setting, believable dialogue, and wonderful characters, including Binny's clever older sister and mischievous younger brother. Worried that she may have willed her Aunty Violet's death, Binny is convinced the house Aunty Violet left—particularly to her—is haunted. All of these developments may appear alarming, but the cycle of events is delightfully enchanting and sure to hold the reader's attention. The very special friendship that blossoms between Binny and her neighbor Gareth yields an unexpected, and heartwarming, ending. This is certain to be a favorite among spirited, sensitive, and dog-loving readers. Reviewer: Debra Lampert-Rudman
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—After her father's death, 11-year-old Binny and her bereaved family find themselves in the house of a deceased relative in a seaside town. There the child becomes fast enemies with the boy next door, yearns for a long-lost dog, crushes on an older boy, and eventually-through a drawn-out pivotal scene interspersed throughout the primary narrative-comes to accept the grief she's been denying herself. The meaning of friendship and loss underlies what otherwise comes across as a fairly light summer beach novel, peopled with loving and quirky characters who get into similarly sweet and innocent scrapes. Although the complex backstory weighs down the start of the book, McKay keeps the rest from flagging by continuously jumping from one short scene to another, some of which are rip-roaringly funny. Odd and unnecessary childish illustrations of enormous-eyed characters caught in overly emotional states make an awkward juxtaposition with McKay's heartfelt and earnest writing. Binny is wonderfully fun and easy to relate to. Give this one to fans of Jeanne Birdsall's "Penderwicks" (Knopf) and McKay's earlier novels.—Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews

"Sometimes stories can save your life," Binny's father once said, and this story could be one of them. Binny's dad died when she was 8, changing the world. The dismal apartments they must live in cannot house her beloved puppy, Max. He goes first to Granny, but when he proves too much for her, Aunty Violet has him "re-homed." At Granny's funeral, Binny rages at Aunty Violet: "You should be dead, not Granny." Two weeks later, she does die, leaving Binny's family a tiny seaside house. Years later, 11-year-old Binny is haunted by the loss of Max and her memories of Aunty Violet. She engages in warfare with her "enemy" Gareth, the boy next door, who is haunted too. The tale moves back and forth from the climactic scene, set in italics, to the leisurely, absorbing setup. Readers meet Binny's loving, overstressed mother; her older sister, musician Clemency; and 6-year-old James, whose signature line is "Hello, don't kiss me!" Binny and Gareth fight some very big demons every child will recognize, and readers will rejoice when both find a way to vanquish them, individually and together. The writing is gorgeous, clear as water; the characters vivid and lively; the story so real each moment of loss, fear, delight and love absolutely visceral. (Fiction. 8-14)

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
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Read an Excerpt

Binny for Short

  • By the time Binny was eleven years old, she had lived in two worlds.  A child’s world, and a time-to-start-growing-up-now world.  An easy world, and a hard world.

    Eight years in the first, and three in the second.  Yet when Binny looked back at the first world from the second, it was hard to believe it had lasted so long.  The eight years diminished like a landscape seen from far out at sea.  An outline. Sunlit highlights. Some gull shrieks of dismay.  A coldness, just as if a fog had rolled in from the sea.  Then it was almost gone.  A shadow land that once had been a solid, steady world.

    That steady world had held Binny, her father and her mother, her brother,  James, and her sister, Clem. It also held a large cheerful house, a friendly school, and her father’s bookshop.  Very famous people had visited that bookshop, and some of them wrote about it afterward.  The sort of  bookshop you will find in Heaven, wrote one optimistically. Books to die for! said another.

    “That’s an awful thing to say!” said Binny when she heard, but her family laughed at her, and her father had both quotations embossed on thick cream bookmarks, which he gave out free to customers. It was the sort of  bookshop that gave away a lot of things free: bookmarks, sofas to sit on while you read, sweets in blue china bowls next to the sofas, iced water, stickers.

    Even free stories.

    The stories came from Binny’s father. He had a large supply of them, which he shared with anyone who wanted to listen. Often that person was Binny. Binny seemed to have more need for stories than most people. Even when she was very young, she was a restless, bothered person. Stories allowed Binny to escape for a while.

    “A long, long time ago,” began her father one empty Sunday afternoon, when Binny was about six and in one of  her fidgeting, no-one-to-play-with, climb-about moods, “in the days when there were heroes . . .”

    “Aren’t there still?” demanded Binny.


    “Can girls be heroes?”

    “As a matter of fact, girls usually make the best heroes of all . . .  Are you going to listen, then? I can’t tell stories to someone all tied up in a curtain.”


    “They might miss something.”


    “Something that matters.”

    “I can’t hear you properly because I’m all swizzled up.”

    “Unswizzle, then. It might be important.”

    “It’s only a story.”

    “Some stories are very important. Sometimes stories can save your life.”

    “Save your life?” asked Binny, unswizzling.

    “I thought you’d hear that!”

    “Tell me a story that could save my life! Go on! Start again! A long, long time ago, in the days when there were heroes . . .”

    “What are you up to now?”

    “Building a camp.” Binny collected an armload of cushions, rolled the hearthrug into a log, and began digging a well with the TV remote. “Get on with the story!”

    “In the days when there were heroes, which there still are, and nearly all girls too, there was a little house, in a little town, right on the edge of a wild, rocky coast. Right on the edge of the land this town was built, houses spilling down to the rocks. Salt spray blowing up the streets. Rock and stone and salt and wind and a sort of  lightness in the air . . .”

    (Here Binny crawled behind the sofa and began collecting firewood for her campfire by gently peeling away strips of wallpaper from the bottom of the wall.)

    “And in that town,” continued her father, in a rather louder voice, “there lived a girl whose name I forget.”

    “Call her Binny!” said Binny, popping out very suddenly.

    “Lived a girl called Binny. In one of the little houses with hardly room to swing a cat, and the noise of  her brother and sister, and the seagulls on the roof and chickens out the back, and the clatter of feet on the cobbles outside, and all the other sounds that there are in a place like that. So this girl, Binny, she used to go down to the sea to practice her singing . . .”

    Soon, Binny-the-listener became Binny-from-the-story. The camp was transformed into a rocky shore. Seals sprawled like cushions in the shallows.  The tide rose, and Binny climbed high amongst the rocks until she ended up perched upon a table, measuring the waves.

    Binny was as good at listening to stories as her father was at telling them. His stories drifted around her head, and some stayed there and some vanished.

    “Nothing vanishes,” said Binny’s mother, which turned out not to be true.

    *  *  *

    All this happened when Binny was very young indeed. In the first world, before it went forever. Before Max.

    *  *  *

    In that first world, for her eighth birthday, Binny had asked for a border collie puppy. “Black and white,” she had ordered. “White socks, white stripe up his nose. White on the end of his tail. Look at the picture in my book!”

    “No, no, no!” her mother had exclaimed, waving the picture away, but Binny’s father had taken the book and looked.

    *  *  *

    Max the puppy, exactly like the picture in the book, had come rollicking into Binny’s bedroom at dawn on the morning of  her birthday. When Binny in the second world looked back to that far-off, lost world of  her first eight years, it seemed incredible.

    “It was,” said Clem. “Ordinary eight-year-olds don’t get border collie puppies for their birthdays.”

    It was incredible, but it was about to end. By the time Binny was nine, Max had gone. He had raced into Binny’s life and out of it, all in a few months.

    “Where? Where?” asked frantic Binny, but there seemed to be no answers. In the early days she was haunted by the fear that his unhappiness might be as bad as her own.

    “Everyone’s unhappy,” said Clem, although not unkindly, and, “Try not to worry Mum.”

    Binny tried, but it was not easy. Remembering Max hurt. “It hurts my heart,” she told Clem, hugging the cold ache in her stomach.

    “That’s not where your heart is,” said Clem, sympathetic but accurate. “You’ll get over it.  You always get over things,” added Clem, who didn’t. “You’ll get used to it and go on.”

    “I won’t.”

    “You have to.”

    *  *  *

    After Max, more than two years went by.

    Binny was nine, then ten, then eleven.

    *  *  *

    By the time Binny reached eleven it seemed that Clem had been right. Half right at least. Max had gone and Binny, although she hadn’t got over it, had got used to it.  Just.  Although for ages she had hoarded a box of dog biscuits in case Max should somehow find his way home, and even two years later she couldn’t help gazing after any black and white dog she saw. She had survived, but she hadn’t forgotten, and now it was a long time since she had last called “Max” and been flattened by his welcome.  A long time since she had burrowed her face in his fur, or heard his terrifying roar at the sight of any stranger.

    *  *  *

    “But Clem was right, you have to go on,” admitted Binny.

    *  *  *

    Going on was how the Cornwallis family—Clem, Binny, James, and Polly their mother—survived.

  • Meet the Author

    Hilary McKay is the award-winning author of Binny in Secret (which received three starred reviews), Binny for Short (which received four starred reviews), and six novels about the Casson family: Caddy’s World (which received three starred reviews), Saffy’s Angel (winner of the Whitbread Award, an ALA Notable Book, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, and a School Library Journal Best Book), Indigo’s Star (an ALA Notable Book and a Publishers Weekly Best Book), Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After, and Forever Rose. She is also the author of Wishing for Tomorrow, the sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. Hilary lives with her family in Derbyshire, England. Visit her at HilaryMcKay.co.uk.

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    Binny for Short 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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