• Happy birthday Joseph Bruchac (Code Talker, Keepers of the Earth) and Peter McCarty (Little Bunny on the Move).
  • It’s the birth date of Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979), Diana and Her Rhinoceros, and storyteller Cecile de Brunhoff (1903-2003), co-creator of The Story of Babar, and subsequent books in the series.
  • It’s also the birth date of American lexicographer Noah Webster (1758 – 1843), considered the Father of the American Dictionary. Hence, it is Dictionary Day. Read Andrew Clements Frindle.
  • The Library of ancient Alexandria was the largest and best library in the ancient Roman world. In 2002 Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the commemoration of the lost library of Alexandria is inaugurated on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Read The Library by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small.
  • Donating to your local food pantry or volunteering to serve community meals are ways to help alleviate hunger on World Food Day today. Read Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin.
  • It’s also Sweetest Day. Read The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg.

Some books just begged to be discussed with others, and our book of the day for Reading Group Month is perfect for mother/daughter groups: Dana Reinhardt’s The Summer I Learned to Fly.

When we first meet the protagonist of the book, she tells us that some smells draw us back to childhood—like her grandfather’s aftershave lotion. But the scent that reminds her of the most important summer of her life, between age thirteen and fourteen, is the smell of Limburger, Camembert, or Stilton cheese. Narrated by Birdie when she is eighteen, she explains a lot about cheese—her mother has opened up a gourmet cheese shop—and what it feels like to be an outsider, without friends.

Birdie makes up for her lack of a social life by helping her mother in the shop. She likes working at the counter or making pasta with her mother’s assistant, the dreamboat Nick. Her other companions, not really friends, are away for the summer. In fact, her own true friend appears to be a pet rat that she carries around in her backpack. Although some might find a pet rat farfetched, I myself had one as a teenager —a lab rat that I didn’t want killed. The details of rat ownership seemed spot on to me!

Then one day, out behind the shop, Birdie meets Emmett. He knows a lot about rats and a good deal about human misery. Slowly she begins to understand that he has no real home; piece by piece she puts his story together. When he finally confides all the details to her, he asks her to go with him on a journey—a quest to find healing and a miracle. Although they quickly return home, the book opens up questions about honesty. For neither Birdie nor her mother have been completely candid with each other.

Although the premise of the novel, that transitional summer between being a girl and growing up, is as old as Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, the voice, approach, and quirkiness of The Summer I Learned to Fly is completely original. I fell for Birdie from the first page, as have many other readers. She’s honest and compassionate and struggling to find her own place in the world. For those who love books of gentle romance like Flipped, for those who love a great first-person voice, for those who enjoy an intriguing protagonist, The Summer I Learned to Fly will be totally satisfying. But a word of warning: It will make you hungry for cheese!

Here’s a passage from The Summer I Learned to Fly:

How could it be? I’d loved Nick for most of a year. I wasn’t a dreamer, so I had never really believed that Nick would or could love me back, that we’d live happily ever after in a kingdom of fresh pastas and cheese, but how he made me feel when I was near him was something new to me. I’d thought it was something singular. Something specific to Nick, who smelled of the sea. And yet, that same rush had overtaken me as I’d reached the top of that climb and seen Emmett sprawled out on that grass.

Was I really that fickle? Was it really that easy for me to fall under the spell of another boy?

Originally posted October 16, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Food, Romance, Seasons, Summer
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Summer I Learned to Fly
Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Maia Hajj says:

    This book will be next on my reading list. Your description of it immediately piqued my interest and I like how you compared its theme to Maureen Daly’s Seventeenth Summer, while honoring its originality.

  2. Barb says:

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned how much I appreciate you putting tomorrow’s book in the sidebar–I love the anticipation!

  3. Anita says:

    Barb: Thanks for mentioning this. I also wanted people to be able to find the book in their collection if they like to feature the book of the day.

  4. G. Perry says:

    I’ve have this book ordered from the library.

    There have been two recent book titles that have caused a powerful visceral reaction in me.

    One was “When You Reach Me”, and now this one, “the summer i learned to fly”

    Two film titles did this to me as well. The Boy Who Could Fly. The second one being, Radio Flyer.

    One of the things Freud got right, was if something keeps coming back to you, embrace it. So, I’ve learned to pay attention to this kind of thing. It’s saying something to me about what some of my own material should be about. Maybe mine is, the childhood summer I learned to survive.

    Examining this kind of reaction to books in depth, can produce powerful insights. One of my careers was flying. Funny thing is even though flying is a theme here, there’s something deeper, something that came before flying, connected to all this for me. Sorry for straying from the book itself.

    I love the cover of this book. Feet flying off the ground. Perfect! One of the most perfect book covers I have ever seen.

  5. Anita says:

    Gordon: It is a very arresting jacket. It stopped me in a bookstore — the first chapter led to a purchase.

  6. Sarah says:

    I got this book from the library and read it in an evening. It was a wonderful book. It was written in such a way that it struck be on an emotional level in a way that few books do. Thank you so much for recommending it!

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.