Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  Harriet gets an upsetting surprise on her last day of third grade: her pregnant mother has been ordered to go on bed rest until the baby arrives, and Harriet will be spending two months at her grandmother’s bed and breakfast on Marble Island.  On the ferry trip, her father, who grew up on the island, makes a few cryptic comments about treasure and a gingerbread house that arouse Harriet’s curiosity.  After she gets to Nanu’s house and her dad leaves, though, Harriet is miserable for the next few days and expresses her misery by being surly and unpleasant to those around her.  Fortunately, Nanu is understanding, and as the days go by, Harriet begins to make some discoveries that help her to get to know her dad as a boy and that lead her to unlocking the mysteries of the treasure and the gingerbread house.  By the end of the book, Harriet has discovered her own strength and feels much more confident about her abilities to get through the summer on her own.  208 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  I love how upfront Harriet is about her shortcomings: on the first page she tells the reader that she lies, is plagued by nightmares, and sometimes wets the bed.  She covers up her homesickness with grumpiness and occasional fibs but grows in a way that’s realistic and that will resonate with many readers.  The mystery is a fun part of the story, but somewhat secondary to Harriet’s development. I’m always happy to see a “real” chapter book written for this age group.

Cons:  I liked the somewhat eccentric woman called the Captain and was hoping there would be more revealed about her character.

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