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, 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.
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’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:
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 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.