Summer’s Friendship Games is the fourth book in the Jim Henson’s Enchanted Sisters series. I haven’t read the first three, and that wasn’t a problem as far as understanding the characters and plot—maybe some things would have had a little more meaning had I read the others, but it wasn’t really an issue.
There are four Enchanted Sisters, one for each season. They each have their own little realm (Sparkledoms!), animal companion, personality, and particular talent or ability. They call themselves the Sparkles and they are overseen by Mother Nature. There are four boys, the Weeds, who live in the Barrens with Bluster Tempest. They each represent some kind of threatening weather—Thunderbolt, Twister, Quake, and Sleet.
It’s pretty clear that the boys vs. girls thing has been going on for a long time. The Sparkles think the Weeds are all smelly, rude, and nasty, and the Weeds think the Sparkles are all silly and frilly. But then Summer and Thunderbolt end up hanging out together, and they actually have a lot of fun. However, neither group can accept this friendship. When Summer invites Thunderbolt to her beach party, he brings his brothers along and they mess everything up. Mother Nature and Bluster Tempest convince the kids to work out their differences through a series of competitive games. When Summer’s wand goes missing after she was hanging out with Thunderbolt, her sisters convince her that he took it, proving he can’t be trusted. Was Thunderbolt just pretending to her friend?
This is a sweet book for independent readers. There are a lot of cute black and white illustrations, large print, and a quickly moving plot.
As a side note, as an editor, I was really impressed by the punctuation. That might seem silly, but it’s certainly something I notice. It’s also something that’s often overlooked in books for younger readers, where I’ve seen a lot of messy or misused punctuation. So I really appreciated the stellar punctuation in this book!
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
It seems like Summer and her sisters have good reason not to trust the Weeds. They’ve done some pretty mean things in the past. When Thunderbolt shows a different side, though, Summer forgets about his past. She’s willing to let him change and grow. However, she’s also quick to believe that she was wrong about him when that evidence is presented.
It turns out her sisters set him up (they took Summer’s wand and blamed Thunderbolt because they thought he would end up hurting their sister). Summer and Thunderbolt forgive each other for doubting the other, and—most surprising to me—Summer immediately forgives her sisters as well.
Boys and Girls and Competition
While the kids do fit a lot of stereotypes (the boys think farting and pranking are really funny, the girls have wands and magic headbands and cute animal friends), they also end up defying a lot of them. I appreciated that the girls are all athletically competent while still being girly. When Spring has an event based on ballet, the boys realize that the ballet leaps are really great and the ballet slippers are perfect for leaping. The girls, while making noises about not wanting to get all dirty, actually have a lot of fun in the mud of the Barrens. Although they’ve been really competitive about proving that boys are better than girls and vice versa, in the end they come together when the girls’ boat sinks in a whirlpool that the Weeds created. The girls are ready to graciously concede defeat, and the boys say that it should be a tie because they all crossed the finish line together on the boys’ boat.
Thunderbolt teaches Summer to high dive, and Summer teaches Thunderbolt how to pole vault—they are both talented athletes and see the potential in each other.
There are some very mild hints that maybe some of the kids are getting crushes on each other, but there’s nothing approaching even grade school romance, and for the most part they’re becoming friends as they learn to see past their assumptions.
The kids seem to assume that Mother Nature and Bluster Tempest are opposites, in conflict with each other. However, it’s clear that they’re friends—possibly more—even if they don’t always agree. And they both want the kids to learn to get along.
Summer’s sisters lie about Thunderbolt, causing Summer to get angry because she thinks he tricked and betrayed her. She forgives them really quickly—I kind of would have liked more repercussions for that. It was a really nasty thing to do, even if they thought their intentions were good.
Everyone—the Sparkles, the Weeds, and Mother Nature—lies about who won the games so that Bluster Tempest will lose his bet with Mother Nature, thus having to serve everyone tea while wearing a dress. This is a pretty harmless lie, but it’s still very much at Bluster’s expense.
Summer is really hurt when she thinks Thunderbolt was only pretending to be her friend so he could get her wand. Thunderbolt is really hurt when his new friend turns against him for unknown reasons. Their anger at each other makes it harder for them to compete because it keeps them from performing at their best. Summer keeps trying to focus because she’s letting her sisters down, but she keeps getting distracted by trying to figure out what’s up with Thunderbolt.
Much of the diversity is in the illustrations rather than the text, but there is a wide variety of skin tones and cultural cues, yet there is no question that they’re all sisters (or brothers) who would do anything for each other. The illustrator is Paige Pooler, who also illustrated the wildly-popular-on-this-blog My Sister the Vampire series.
In the widely expanding genre of “books aimed at newly independent readers who are probably girls,” this stands out with its diversity and the relatively complex plot point about trying to figure out whether you can let someone who has antagonized you grow up into a friend. Summer’s split loyalties may very well resonate with many kids. It’s appropriate as a read aloud for any kid with the attention span to sit through several pages as a time. It’s also good as a chapter book for newly independent readers.
The publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Summer’s Friendship Games by Elise Allen and Halle Stanford
Published in 2015 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Fourth in the Jim Henson’s Enchanted Sisters series, after Autumn’s Secret Gift, Winter’s Flurry Adventure, and Spring’s Sparkle Sleepover
Read the hardcover version