Bird Lake Moon

Bird Lake Moon

3.0 2
by Kevin Henkes

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There are ghosts at Bird Lake, and they're haunting Mitch Sinclair and Spencer Stone. Not the Halloween kind, but ghosts of the past. Memories of how life was before—before the divorce, before the accident. Can their ghosts bring Mitch and Spencer together, as friends? Or will their secrets keep them apart?

Either way, it is a summer that neither Mitch nor

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There are ghosts at Bird Lake, and they're haunting Mitch Sinclair and Spencer Stone. Not the Halloween kind, but ghosts of the past. Memories of how life was before—before the divorce, before the accident. Can their ghosts bring Mitch and Spencer together, as friends? Or will their secrets keep them apart?

Either way, it is a summer that neither Mitch nor Spencer will ever forget.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Ward
A ghost and more than one mystery hover in this quiet, affecting novel set on Wisconsin's Bird Lake.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

In a novel as tender as his acclaimed Olive's Ocean, Henkes probes the psyches of two boys facing family conflicts. Spending long, lonely days at his grandparents' lakeside home, 12-year-old Mitch Sinclair has plenty of time to brood about his parents' impending divorce and to plot against the family of "intruders" who have moved into his favorite spot, the house next door that he assumed was abandoned. What Mitch can't know is that the newcomers have been shaken by tragedy, the drowning of a child in the lake eight years ago, and their stay is destined to be short-lived. Mitch becomes friends with 10-year-old Spencer Stone, the elder of the surviving children, and as trust builds between them, the boys risk exchanging their family secrets. Tranquil Bird Lake serves as an effective setting for this reflective novel, with Henkes alternating between Mitch's and Spencer's points of view. The most remarkable aspect of the book may be the author's ability to isolate the sources of the boys' shared sense of loss and then to express, via easily recognizable and even ordinary experiences, their growing acceptance of what cannot be changed. Ages 10-14. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Anita Barnes Lowen
Two and a half weeks ago, Mitch's dad did not come home. He called to say he was going to live with someone else. Now Mitch and his mom are temporarily—and uncomfortably—living with his grandparents on the shores of Bird Lake. The house next door is empty, perhaps abandoned, and Mitch daydreams of making it a new home for his mom and himself: "...he swept the stoop and cleaned the birdbath...and carved his initials into the front-porch railing thinking each thing he did would somehow bring him closer to ownership." However, Spencer's family owns the house, and they have not visited it since the summer years ago when Matty, Spencer's brother, drowned. His mom and dad want to check the house out, to decide whether it is time to sell or to make it part of their lives again. Mitch is furious that these "intruders" might end his daydream and he is determined to scare them away. He decides to haunt the house with mysterious ghostly signs. Little does he know that Spencer sees these signs and believes that the long-dead Matty is haunting the house. The two boys—one haunted by the present and the other by the past—become fast friends. Now, Mitch has to make things right. This is a believable and well-written story of loss and friendship told by two boys caught up in heart-wrenching circumstances. Reviewer: Anita Barnes Lowen
KLIATT - Paula Rohrlick
Mitch, age 12, has come to Bird Lake with his mother to stay with his grandparents, now that his father has left them. He secretly lays claim to the empty house next door, and when Spencer, age 10, and his family arrive, Mitch is angry at these "intruders." He plays tricks on Spencer at first, like stealing his swim goggles and letting his dog off the leash, but finally confesses as the boys edge toward a friendship and he learns that Spencer's younger brother had drowned at the lake some years earlier. That summer friendship, we realize, helps each boy recover from his difficult life experiences. This quiet, beautifully told story deals delicately but realistically with the boys' emotions, and with their conflicting instincts to hide their feelings and to blurt out hard truths. Henkes, whose novel Olive's Ocean was a Newbery Honor book, captures the essence of a pivotal summer in these boys' lives. Reviewer: Paula Rohrlick
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 14.

After his father leaves, twelve-year-old Mitch Sinclair and his mother move in with Mitch's grandparents. Hurt and lonely, Mitch becomes preoccupied with the abandoned house next door, which he imagines is the perfect place to start a new life with his mother. He begins to clean the house and mark the territory as his own, but his plans are foiled when the owners of the house unexpectedly return. Ten-year-old Spencer Stone is apprehensive about returning to his family's house at Bird Lake where, eight years before, his older brother drowned. Spencer was too young to remember much about his brother or the lake house, but he is eager to escape the ever-present "fear of missing something" that overshadows his family's life at home. Told from alternating perspectives, the story reveals how Mitch and Spencer's short friendship begins to heal each other's wounds. Set against the lush backdrop of Bird Lake, Henkes's sensitive novel will be well received by readers who are fans of the careful, slow-paced style of Olive's Ocean (Greenwillow, 2003/VOYA December 2003) and Sun and Spoon (Greenwillow, 1997). Many young readers will relate to Mitch and Spencer's conflicted feelings as they fight the urge to give in to selfish desires because of their growing empathy for others. Henkes's respect for the complexity of these emotions is apparent, even if the characterizations and plot are somewhat unremarkable. Nevertheless the novel embodies the sympathy and kindness of which Henkes is capable when creating young characters dealing with loss. Reviewer: Jennifer M. Miskec
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)

Pam B. Cole
Mitch Sinclair's world is falling apart: his parents are selling their home and divorcing. While arrangements are being made, Mitch and his mother move to Bird Lake to live with his grandparents. His grandparents welcome them with open arms, but as time passes, tension develops between his grandparents and his mother. Mitch discovers a neighboring house, vacant, near the lake. He escapes the stress by cleaning up around the house and fantasizing that he and his mother live there. When Spencer, his younger sister and parents show up at the house, Mitch sets out to scare them away with pranks. His plan goes awry, however, once he and Spencer meet—they become close. Mitch reveals his pain about his family breaking apart, and Spencer shares his family's deepest pain: the death of a child years ago at Bird Lake. This is a quiet story about loss and the healing power of friendship. Rich characterizations and sparse language compel the story forward. The ending hints to a possible sequel. Reviewer: Pam B. Cole
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7- Temporarily living with his mom at his grandparents' home on Bird Lake, 12-year-old Mitch Sinclair's plans to make the seemingly abandoned house next door his own are shattered when Spencer Stone arrives with his family. Both the Sinclairs and the Stones are in crisis-Mitch's parents are divorcing, and Spencer's parents are returning to the house for the first time since the death of their son Matty, who drowned there when Spencer was two. While each boy is deeply affected by his family's drama, both are powerless to influence its unfolding. Mitch, indignant at the Stoneses' intrusion, attempts to scare them off by creating mysterious signs that suggest a ghostly presence. Spencer observes these signs but chooses not to share them with his family. Eventually, the boys meet and connect immediately, leaving Mitch resolved to set things right. Characters are gently and believably developed as the story weaves in and around the beautiful Wisconsin setting. The superbly crafted plot moves smoothly and unhurriedly, mirroring a slow summer pace. Alternating perspectives between the boys gives readers deep insights into their feelings and actions. The secondary characters, the adults and Spencer's firecracker sister, Lolly, are also fully limned, complex individuals. Henkes creates compelling, child-centric images, excellent dialogue, and a believable resolution, with humor and just the right amount of tension to make this a significant and highly readable book. A "must-have" for every library that serves young people.-Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI

Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Henkes's third-person narrative, in alternating chapters, presents the inner lives of Mitch, 12, and Spencer, ten. Over a few summer weeks, each wrestles with family travail in adjacent houses at Bird Lake. Mitch's father has left the family for a new relationship, and Mitch and his mom retreat to his grandparents' place to recover. Spencer, whose four-year-old brother drowned in the lake eight years before, returns with his parents and younger sister Lolly. At first, Mitch thinks of the Stone family as intruders-he has fantasized that the house next door could be his and his mom's-and tries to unnerve them clandestinely. A misguided prank (he secretly unleashes the Stones' dog and subsequently finds him) weighs heavily on Mitch. Yet, in tandem, the two boys gravitate toward friendship and find, despite their respective psychological distress, a satisfying, if potentially only summer-sized pocket of companionship and play. Through artfully observed details and perfectly pitched dialogue among the boys and clever Lolly, Henkes deftly locates Mitch's pain and confusion, delivering a novel that's quiet, nuanced and redemptive. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Bird Lake Moon

Chapter One


Mitch Sinclair was slowly taking over the house, staking his claim. He had just finished carving his initials into the underside of the wooden porch railing, which was his boldest move so far. The other things he had done had required much less courage. He had swept the front stoop with his grandmother's broom. He had cleaned the decaying leaves and the puddle of murky water out of the birdbath in the side yard and filled it with fresh water. He had spat on the huge rotting tree stump at the corner of the lot each day for the past week, marking the territory as his. And he had taken to crawling under the screened back porch during the hot afternoons; he'd lean against the brick foundation in the cool shade, imagining a different life, if, as his mother had said, their old life was over. Forever.

Although he'd seen the house many times while visiting his grandparents, Mitch had never paid much attention to it before. The house was vacant. It was old and plain—white clapboard with dark green trim—and had been neglected for quite a while, so that all its lines, angles, and corners were softened like the edges on a well-used bar of soap. The windows were curtained, keeping the interior hidden. However, the curtains covering the small oval window on the back door were parted slightly, offering a glimpse of a sparsely furnished, shadowy corner of a room. That's all. With some hesitancy, Mitch had tried to open the door, turning the loose knob gently at first, then rattling it harder and harder. The door wouldn't budge. The front door was locked as well. Mitch's grandparents' housestood a short distance from the vacant one. The two yards were separated by a row of scraggly lilac bushes and clumps of seashells that reminded Mitch of crushed bones.

Both yards sloped down to Bird Lake. Mitch went swimming nearly every day; he lived in his bathing suit. There were more people around because it was summer, and yet it was quiet. A sleepy, sleepy place, Mitch's grandfather called it. When Mitch made a casual observation at dinner one night—breaking the dreadful silence—about the lack of potential friends, his grandmother said crisply that she liked having as few children around as possible. She quickly added that she didn't mean him, of course. But Mitch hadn't been so sure.

Mitch ran his finger over his initials. M.S. His father's initials were W.S. Wade Sinclair. Turn an M upside down and you get a W, thought Mitch. We're the same. It was an idle thought, but it caused a burning knot to form in his stomach. "We're not the same at all," Mitch whispered. And we never will be. At the moment, Mitch hated his father, hated him and yet longed to see him so badly tears pricked his eyes. He thought he could destroy this empty little house right now with his bare hands, he was that upset. But he wanted this house. He wanted it for himself and for his mother. To live in.

Mitch rubbed his finger over his initials again. "Ouch," he said. A splinter. A big one. But not big enough to pick out without a tweezers or a needle. He retreated to his spot under the porch and settled in. He hadn't asked his grandparents yet what they knew about the house, because he didn't want an answer that would disappoint him. Maybe he'd ask today. He dozed off in the still, hazy afternoon, blaming his father for everything wrong in the world, including his aching finger.

Sometimes he wished his father had simply vanished. That would have been easier to deal with. Then he could make up any story he wanted to explain his father's absence. Or he could honestly say that he didn't know where his father was or why he had disappeared. And if he had vanished, there would be the possibility that, at any moment, he'd return. There he'd be, suddenly—hunched at the sink, humming, scrubbing a frying pan, a dish towel slung over his shoulder. A familiar pose. Everything back in its proper place, the way it was meant to be.

He even wondered if death would be better than the truth. An honorable death. If his father were killed trying to stop a robbery at a gas station . . . something like that. A car accident would be okay, too, if it were someone else's fault or caused by a surprise storm.

But the truth was worse. The truth was that two and a half weeks ago, his father hadn't come home from work. He had called that night to say that he was going to live with someone else, a woman from his office.

Mitch hated thinking of that night—his mother pressing apologies upon him, and then her silence and the way she kept hugging him, her shoulder bending his nose back until he had to squirm away. He'd felt as if he were nobody's child.

The following morning, his father made a couple of phone calls to Mitch that left him more confused than ever, and left him with more questions than answers.

As that day passed, and the next, Mitch's sadness grew; it became a rock inside him, pulling him down. He carried the sadness everywhere, morning, noon, and night. It hurt to breathe. And then, after three days of looking at each other with mutual uncertainty, Mitch and his mother packed up their most necessary possessions and drove to Mitch's grandparents' house on Bird Lake. "I can't live here anymore," Mitch's mother had said as she stuffed clothes into duffle bags. "We don't belong here, now."

She told him they'd come back sometime during the summer to straighten things out and to pick up whatever they might have forgotten. He told her about a new movie he'd heard of, not because he really cared about this, but because it was a way to keep her from saying things that made him more uneasy than he already was. At one point during their conversation, her voice cracked and she had to turn away for a moment before she began talking again. She circled back to the same topic. "We couldn't afford to stay here if we wanted to, anyway," she said. "Not on a teachers' aide's salary."

Bird Lake Moon. Copyright (c) by Kevin Henkes . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Kevin Henkes has been praised both as a writer and as an illustrator. He received the Caldecott Medal for Kitten’s First Full Moon; Caldecott Honors for Owen and Waiting; two Newbery Honors—one for Olive’s Ocean and one for The Year of Billy Miller—and Geisel Honors for Penny and Her Marble and for Waiting. His other books include Old Bear, A Good Day, Chrysanthemum, and the beloved Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. Kevin Henkes lives with his family in Madison, Wisconsin.

Brief Biography

Madison, Wisconsin
Date of Birth:
November 27, 1960
Place of Birth:
Racine, Wisconsin
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Bird Lake Moon 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a simple book yet i hold it dear to my heart after all these years.