Leaving primary school for secondary school is a very emotional time for Lily. She has loved her time at primary school and has some longstanding friends. That prospect of change brings with it thoughts/musings that 11 year olds will easily relate to. In particular, will her best friend she has known since she was little remain her friend or will she 'move in with' what Lily describes as the popular crowd?
On top of this Lily is experiencing a complex and often bewildering time at home. Her mother has been married twice (Lily's father has died) and her mum has subsequently divorced her step-dad. Consequently, they live in a very small and cramped council house and Lily has to share a room with her younger brothers. She also has an older sister, who appears to have undergone a personality change since entering puberty, and a baby sister who Lily dotes on. The insights we get into her home life are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and at other times deeply moving.
Lily's life gets even more complex as she begins to experience some very strange and disturbing goings on in the form of a 'disembodied voice'. In fact, these experiences are so strange she dare not tell anyone about them, including her very best friend.
The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean would appeal especially to pupils in year 6 and therefore would make an ideal text to have in year 6 class libraries.
It also has a great deal to offer in terms of support for pupils' literacy development. Pupils could examine how authors create and develop characters by studying Lily. As the story is told by Lily, there are no long descriptions of her. The reader learns everything about Lily through her actions and her speech. A really good model of 'show not tell'. Pupils could identify adjectives to describe Lily and then justify their choices by finding evidence in action and speech. This would facilitate both pupils comprehension and composition skills. This is in contrast to the vivid description we get on page 40 of Lily's friend Rowan.
Littleson's writing style is beautifully rich without being flowery. Her choice of vocabulary is particularly thoughtful and as such portrays her characters' emotions and actions in such a way that pupils and teachers could engage in discussions about when and why authors opt to use the word 'said' as opposed to 'taunts', 'screams' or 'replies'.
Littleson's writing is so clear readers will find it easy to visualise the setting. The fact that it is set in real places in Scotland makes the novel an ideal resource for a joint English and geography unit of study. For teachers in England, it could be used as a stimulus for study of a location beyond the local area. Research would lead to ample material for pupils to use in preparation for a whole range of different types of writing including persuasive writing in the form of tourist leaflets and brochures.
Overall, the story is engaging, tender, humorous.
The Mixed-Up Summer of Lily McLean won the prestigious Kelpies prize in 2014.
Publisher: Kelpies (an imprint of Floris Books)
Publication date: 2015