Recommended for ages 9-13
Brian is on track to having the worst summer EVER. His widowed dad has the chance of a lifetime, doing research at the South Pole. His brother is staying with a friend while his dad’s away. Brian’s being shipped off to Boring, Illinois, to stay with his Uncle Gary, Aunt Jenny, and know-it-all cousin, Nora. To add insult to injury, Uncle Gary’s developed a summer school computer program, Summer’s Cool, and is making Brian and Nora keep actual school hours to prevent the dreaded “summer slide”. Just when Brian wants to tear his hair out from boredom, he and Nora discover a house in the woods beyond Uncle Gary’s property. Cosmo van Dash, the boy who lives there, calls the house The Matchstick Castle, and he lives there with his eccentric family – explorers, writers, thinkers, dreamers – and invites Brian and Nora on adventures where they’ll explore the house to recover a lost uncle, run from wild boars and trap giant Amazon bees. A fanatically boring bureaucrat wants to tear the Matchstick Castle to put up another – well, boring – housing development, but Brian, Nora, and the van Dash family will fight to secure their castle.
This story is way too much fun. Told in the first person from Brian’s point of view, we get a narrator who is having the worst summer ever. He’s a sympathetic character: we get only enough information about his family to know that his mother has died, his father is a very permissive parent, and he’s put into a situation that threatens to squash all the fun and creativity out of his life in favor of being safe and predictable. Boring, just like the Illinois town where he’s enduring the summer. The Matchstick Castle and the family that lives there helps bring color and life back to Brian’s world and, in doing so, brings him closer to his cousin, Nora, while also giving Nora permission to let loose and have fun. Tweens will love the van Dashes. It’s a good opportunity to share fun and crazy family stories as a writing or collage exercise, too. I hope this one shows up on summer reading lists; it’s a perfect summertime read.