sunshine marion dane bauer

One week.  Ben has one week to get his mother to come back home.

Ben is headed to spend one week with his mother on her island out in the middle of the wilds. His mother left the family when Ben was three-years old and Ben has lived with his father all this time. He feels so different from other children who have a mother at home.  This is his chance to get her back.

With his imaginary friend, a dog named Sunshine, at his side, Ben gets into the canoe with his mother and the two paddle and hike until they get to the cabin where his mother lives and writes novels.  Ben is determined to be perfect. He's determined to be the boy his mother could love.  So, when she asks him to climb up into the loft, into the darkness that scares him so much, he says yes.

This books is for every child who has been abandoned and for every child who has been hit.  This book is for every child who believed they were the reason the bad things happened to them.

An adventure in the wilderness and an adventure in the pain of children whose parents have let them down, this is the story of any child who cries on the inside and aches to be loved and wanted.

Beautiful.  Aching.  Filled with hope. 208 pages 978-1536214116 Ages 8-12

Keywords: mother/son, family, wilderness, guilt, acceptance, loss, divorce, love, relationships, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, abandonment

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


Set in the northern Minnesota wilderness, a timeless novel about a boy and his imaginary dog explores the legacy of guilt and blame—and what really constitutes a family.

Newbery Honoree Marion Dane Bauer evokes the “summer that changed everything” in the life of a boy growing up without a mother. Since as far back as Ben can remember, it’s been him, his devoted dad, and Sunshine—Ben’s little dog, who rarely leaves Ben’s side. It was Mom who did the leaving, and Ben’s about to spend a whole week with his suddenly present mother in the wilds of northern Minnesota. On the remote island she calls home, Ben will learn to canoe, weather the elements, and weigh a burning question: when will she come back to where she belongs? A must-read for dog lovers, children of divorce, and the imaginative and outdoorsy, Sunshine is a poignant, ultimately hopeful story about self-discovery, facing big realities, and finally, forgiving the things—and people—you can’t forget.---from the publisher


“I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell

I know, right now you can’t tell

But stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see

A different side of me”

-- Matchbox Twenty (2002)

“He props on one elbow to check for Sunshine. It’s the first thing he does every morning, look to see where she is. He knows she’s not real. Of course. She just lives in his mind. But still, when he looks he can always find her.

And there she is. Curled on a corner of the sleeping bag below his feet.

Ben pats the floor to call her closer. She opens one eye, considers his invitation, then lets her eye drift closed again.

Ben flops back down, astonished. His dog never disobeys him. Never!

But then, as if to let him know she was only teasing, Sunshine rises, pads toward him, and lies down again with a small grunt, half on, half off his pillow. She gives his ear a good-morning lick.

He sighs and turns toward her until her reddish-gold fur fills his whole vision. There’s never been a moment when he couldn’t count on her.”

Ever since he was three, and his mother left him and his father, Ben has counted on his imaginary dog, Sunshine. His father was happy to play along back then. But now Dad thinks Ben should have since outgrown the invisible dog routine.

SUNSHINE begins with Ben preparing to go stay with his mother for the first time since she left. She lives on her family’s ancestral island, on a lake in the middle of the northern Minnesota wilderness. No electricity. No wifi. An outhouse and an outside water hand pump. Mom arrives in a canoe to collect him for their week together.

“He closes his hand around a floppy ear. He can’t count the number of times he’s held an ear, warm and furry in his hand. When he was little, he used to hold it all night long while he slept.

It’s what drives his dad crazy, the way he ‘touches’ Sunshine. He says it’s taking imaginings too far.”

It turns out that Ben’s mother sees Sunshine positively, telling Ben that Sunshine is a guardian spirit, a companion, a daemon. So begins the event-filled week of mutual discovery shared by a boy and his long-lost mother. The mother to whom, Ben hopes, he can sufficiently endear himself so she will magically come back home to live with him and Dad.

SUNSHINE is intense and thrilling. I’ll keep it short, so as not to give away too much. Why Ben’s mother left her husband and small child to go live alone on the island is a mystery to be resolved. I sat and read through to the last page, eager to find out how mother and child will react to each other, and wanting to understand what happened that tore the family apart.

The psychological aspects of the story make this a better fit for upper elementary than for younger readers but this is one captivating read and a possible springboard for important discussions.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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