The Summer We Found the Baby
author: Amy Hest
pages: [hardcover] 192
favorite character: Julie
Set during World War II, this poignant, briskly paced historical novel relays the events of one extraordinary summer from three engaging points of view.
On the morning of the dedication of the new children’s library in Belle Beach, Long Island, eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, find a baby in a basket on the library steps. At the same time, twelve-year-old Bruno Ben-Eli is on his way to the train station to catch the 9:15 train into New York City. He is on an important errand for his brother, who is a soldier overseas in World War II. But when Bruno spies Julie, the same Julie who hasn’t spoken to him for sixteen days, heading away from the library with a baby in her arms, he has to follow her. Holy everything, he thinks. Julie Sweet is a kidnapper.
Of course, the truth is much more complicated than the children know in this heartwarming and beautifully textured family story by award-winning author Amy Hest. Told in three distinct voices, each with a different take on events, the novel captures the moments and emotions of a life-changing summer — a summer in which a baby gives a family hope and brings a community together.
I’ve never read a book like The Summer We Found the Baby. Filled with lighthearted humor, a serious historical setting, and an adorable trio of narrators, this book shows how the simplest morning can turn into a grand adventure.
Each chapter features three different perspectives: Julie, 11, determined to be first to the opening of the new children’s library. Her sister, Martha, 6, who is equally determined never to be left behind. Bruno, 12, is on a very important mission, at least until he sees something odd: Julie taking a baby from where it’s been left alone on the front steps of the library. The book’s setup is very unique, showing the same scene from different characters’ perspectives and also utilizing each narrator’s flashbacks to give some perspective to their lives before they found the baby.
Although this book is set during World War II, it’s different in that it shows the war as an overarching backdrop that affects these children in different ways. Bruno’s brother has gone off to fight; Martha and Julie’s father’s job is to write about war heroes. It’s interesting to see how it’s shaped their lives and motivations–especially when it comes to preparing for the library’s opening!–when the war is so far removed from them geographically. This would be an interesting way to introduce young readers to the general American attitude during World War II, through the framing of a light plot.
In fact, I thought it pretty clever how real lessons and stories were told just behind the narrative surrounding the baby Julie is “borrowing” while the trio decide what to do with the baby. Julie and Martha grieve the loss of their mother. Bruno worries about his brother. The entire town seems to sit, frozen, waiting to hear news about the war. Even in this short book, the characters show real depth as they’re faced with mature situations and emotions. By viewing the plot through three separate narrators, readers can see no one person reacts just the same as another. Everyone processes emotions and life events differently, and The Summer We Found the Baby does an excellent job showcasing that.
I highly recommend this book! The Summer We Found the Baby is a quiet story that will leave you hooked on the mystery as well as the characters relating it to you.