empathy, cat-rescuing, and yellow jackets

Tricia Springstubb and Eliza Wheeler have collaborated on a duet of chapter books starring a young girl with a hugely-warm heart, following the ordinary ins-and-outs of her mostly-happy life.

The stories are a brilliant mix of contemporary society and ageless simplicity that would make fantastic summer reading for the 8- 10-year-old crowd or engaging read-alouds for listeners as young as 5.

The first volume — and you should definitely read them in order — is:

cody and the fountain of happiness cover imageCody and the Fountain of Happiness, by Tricia Springstubb, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
published in 2015 by Candlewick; 150 pages

I fell in love with Cody in this breezy summertime story.  Her much-loved summer vacation days are full of simple diversions that sound like the pastimes of 50 years ago — watching ants, chatting with a new friend and his dear Grandma, rescuing cats. Cody is a thoughtful, kind, imaginative young girl, and her relationships with her mom, dad, and teen-aged brother, are warm and funny.cody and the fountain of happiness illustration eliza wheeler

The book chronicles a fairly ordinary sequence of events, really. No nailbiting drama. No careening action. Yet it captivated me due to Springstubb’s delightful characters, pleasant good humor, and atmospheric charm.

I especially like that Cody’s family is economically average. Dad drives a big rig, on the road for long chunks of time, and Mom works selling shoes. They live in a working-class, multiethnic neighborhood, a setting I’d love to see more often in kid’s lit.

cody and the fountain of happiness illustration2 eliza wheeler

Cody’s plotting to comfort both her new friend, Spencer, and her teen-age brother, Wyatt, is crammed with good intentions, but leads to some consternation and troubles which need to be sorted out. That’s the basic plot. Appealing, lithe, gray-tone illustrations bring the characters to life.

The second set of Cody-adventures is:

cody and the mysteries of the universe cover imageCody and the Mysteries of the Universe, published in 2016. It’s 137 pages long.

Here is the same cast of characters — with some tangy additions — at the end of a summer, heading back to school. Cody bumps up against some thornier problems this time including a bit of jealousy over a friendship triangle and her brother Wyatt’s moodiness.

The thorniest troubles of all, though, are Spencer’s neighbors — a couple of girls whose aggression terrorizes Cody and Spencer, and their intimidating father whose name speaks for itself: Mr. Meen!

cody and the mysteries of the universe illustration eliza wheeler

Cody works through these tricky situations with the same kind heart, peaceable inclinations, and thoughtful questions as she does in the first volume.  I love the way Springstubb weaves empathy into Cody’s outlook in an entirely authentic manner.

I have no idea if more volumes are in the works, but I would welcome them. Fans of Kevin Henkes’ The Year of Billy Miller — you will definitely want to check these out.