“Rings on a tree tell a story,” Franny Parker tells Lucas Dunn. “They tell you about its seasons, if they’ve been plentiful or not.” So far, the rings of Franny’s life have been marked by her family, their farm, their dusty little Oklahoma town – all of it so familiar. But in the summer of her thirteenth year, the Dunns move in next door, harboring painful secrets. From the moment Franny meets Lucas, the two begin a friendship that introduces Franny to the large world beyond her barnyard fence. As their town endures one of the harshest droughts in decades, Franny learns that those in need are not just those others you hear about in church or school; they can be injured wildlife or even the family next door. When her own family suffers a loss, Franny must find the courage to look beyond her sadness to aid a friend in need.
This tender, beautifully written debut novel is the story of a summer full of promises and pain, a season that, although one of the hardest in Franny Parker’s life, turns out to be plentiful.
Hannah Roberts McKinnon Talks About How Wildlife Rescue Influenced Franny Parker
Like Franny Parker, I was once a little girl with a mouse in her pocket. Growing up in the hills of Connecticut, I spent the better part of my childhood outdoors in the woods and fields surrounding my home. I had the immense fortune of watching the swallows building their summer nests in our horse barn each year, rock-hopping in the brook, and playing in the reeds and wetlands behind our house.
Nature was not just at my fingertips, it was often in them, it seemed lost or injured animals were always at my doorstep, whether I was clutching a baby chipmunk I'd rescued from the family cat or a turtle stuck in a busy road. But I must confess, I am a product not just of my environment, but of my parents. One of my earliest memories involves my father retrieving a frog from a group of boys who were throwing rocks at it and then driving the dazed amphibian away in our family car. It didn't faze me that my father chauffeured the little green guy a few miles up the road to the safe haven of a boy-free salt pond. Later, there was the summer afternoon my mother and I peered over our neighbor's fence in Cape Cod, watching a group of children unload their beach toys and several large brown horseshoe crabs from the family car after a day at the beach. We grimaced as the kids dragged the crabs around the yard by their tails, eventually tiring of the quiet arthropods and abandoning them to bake in the sun. The moment those kids went inside, my mother and I snuck into their backyard, crouching low, and scooped the crabs gently up. I will never forget loading them into the car and heading back to the beach, trotting sneakily down the road with a wooden wagon full of confiscated crabs. It was a dangerous thrill, but my mother never apologized. We had our principles.
Those principles stay with me even today, in adulthood. In recent years I have had the great pleasure of working with a local organization, Wildlife in Crisis, in Wilton Connecticut. That special place is where I gleaned much of my skill and further deepened my interest and commitment to wildlife rehabilitation. Director Dara Reid and her team of college students and volunteers are a well-oiled machine when it comes to protecting and rehabilitating injured local wildlife. They take in thousands of animals each year, from injured fawns to exotic birds, all brought in by concerned citizens and passersby. In addition to their providing round-the-clock feedings, medical treatment, and shelter to animals in need, this nonprofit organization provides wildlife education to the region and shares its commitment with all who wish to become involved. It is people like Dara and the volunteers at Wildlife in Crisis who impress upon me the spirit of generosity through their tireless commitment.
For me, my connection to the natural world is compassion as well as a passion for all living things. I can't help but glance in car windows on summer days, mindful of dogs left in hot parking lots. And each spring I slow the car on my road by the lake as the snapping turtles make their slow, deliberate path to their hatching grounds. But it is so much more than that. There is something miraculous about the tiny heartbeat of a baby bird pulsing in the palm of your hand, something so fragile and yet so strong. There is a beauty indescribable in the complex patterns of a wolf pup's fur coat; exquisiteness interwoven with purpose. Nature is the stuff from which we come, both the raw and the lovely. I have a difficult time understanding how separated we've become from the natural world, how removed we are from it and therefore how careless some of us are about it. I feel sorry for those who do not know the privilege of taking a long walk in the woods on a winter day. I consider myself lucky to step outside at night and hear the somewhat chilling call of a coyote clan behind my home, lonely voices that the human heart can surely relate to. I find nature to be healing, to remind me of how connected we all are and how fragile life is. It is inside all of us, the very root of our being.
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 5-8–Franny, 13, expects this hot, dry summer to be like all the others, but it turns out to be far from expected. Life in her sleepy Oklahoma town is woken up when Lucas Dunn and his mother move into the abandoned cottage next door. Franny's life has been one of lemonade, quilting bees, and normal sibling arguments, and she soon learns that Lucas's family is quite unlike hers. The close-knit town welcomes the Dunn family, enveloping them in their warmth and friendship, but Lucas and his mother seem to be harboring pain and dark secrets. A severe drought threatens many wild animals, and Franny starts her own animal hospital, which soon bursts with creatures in need. When Lucas's alcoholic and abusive father shows up to reclaim his family, Franny is forced to discover many harsh realities in life. As the children's friendship grows, she realizes that there are others besides the animals that are in need, but that giving help to people is often difficult. This debut novel is a poignant, emotional, and beautifully written coming-of-age story.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA
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