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Kyle's Island

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By: Sally Derby

This is not the way Kyle planned to spend his summer.

For as far back as Kyle can remember, he spent summers at Gram's cottage on the lake — fishing all day, and hanging out with the whole family. But this year is different. His father has moved out, his grandmother has died, and his mother is selling the cottage because they can't afford the upkeep.

Sally Derby takes readers to a small lake in 1970s Michigan, where thirteen-year-old Kyle comes to understand that loss isn't forever, and that people are more complicated than they seem.

Author & Illustrator Bios:

Sally Derby, author

Sally Derby was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio. She had a very ordinary life until she learned to read and write. After that, whenever she wasn't in school, she was either reading or writing herself into exciting and wonderful places.

Sally is the author of many books for children, including No Mush Today (Lee & Low Books), Whoosh Went the Wind (Marshall Cavendish), and Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas (Henry Holt), a Smithsonian Notable Book. Kyle’s Island, her first novel, is “my love letter to Donnel Lake, Michigan, where my grandparents owned a small cottage.”

Sally lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Read more about Sally Derby.

Awards & Honors:

  • Great Lakes, Great Reads Winter Season
  • PSLA YA Top 40 Non-fiction
  • NYSRA Charlotte Award Suggested Reading List (middle school/high school

Editorial Reviews:


When Kyle and his family return to their beloved lake cottage in Michigan, his mother drops the bomb that this will be their last summer there. Newly divorced, she feels forced to sell the property to make ends meet. A veteran fisherman at age 13, and very much tuned into lake life and nature's simple pleasures, Kyle rages at the prospect and boils inwardly at his father for causing the family's upheaval. Stung by loss, and out of sorts with this unwelcome transition in his life, Kyle trudges through the days of what was supposed to be a great summer. He also makes a quest out of exploring an unihabited island in the lake. When he connects with a somewhat mysterious neighbor and takes him on fishing excursions, Kyle learns more about the island and begins to feel empathy for other people's stories. A sensitive coming-of-age tale that does not tie up ends too neatly.

School Library Journal

Kyle’s father left his family in February to “think things out.” Now it’s summer, and the 12-year-old and his mother and siblings are staying at their cabin by a Michigan lake, on an island that Kyle plans to explore. It’s just like always, except that this visit will be their last. With her husband gone, Kyle’s mother is forced to put the cabin, which has been in her family for years, on the market. The boy is devastated. This year is also different in that Kyle’s sisters are keeping secrets from him, and they develop a great interest in the boys who live nearby. As the summer slips away, Kyle spends most of his time fishing either alone or with his elderly neighbor, who teaches him not to take people at face value. His worst fears are realized when the cabin is sold. This story moves slowly and is primarily a study of the protagonist’s personal development. His feelings of rejection and anger ring true for someone his age, and he eventually begins to look at a situation from more than one angle. The other characters are one-dimensional and remain in the background.

Publishers Weekly

Picture-book writer Derby (No Mush Today) sets her first novel in a quieter time, placing it on the gentler end of the middle-grade spectrum. Kyle, a solid, loving, and responsible (nearly) 13-year-old in the 1970s, lives for his summers by the lake in upstate Michigan, where his family converges on his grandmother's tiny cottage and spends lazy days fishing, swimming, reading, and sketching. But now his grandmother has died, his father has moved out, and his mother has decided they cannot afford to keep the cottage. Furious with his father for leaving them, Kyle nevertheless strives to be a good big brother to seven-year-old Josh and to get along with his sisters. Kyle's love of rowing and fishing pervades the novel; calm scenes on the water offset his emotional turmoil. When an obese older neighbor employs him to take him fishing every morning, Kyle realizes he may be able to earn the money to keep the cottage. Kyle and his siblings often seem unnaturally mature and empathetic, but overall Derby creates a realistic rendition of family life, with a smattering of adventure, in this tender coming-of-age story.

The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

The lake cabin in Michigan has always been where Kyle's family comes together, and thirteen-year-old Kyle considers summer there even more important now that his grandmother has died and his father has left. This summer brings some new directions as Kyle becomes the fishing companion of a neighbor, Mr. Butler, and begins to understand his little brother's need for attention and inclusion, but a pall is cast over the vacation when he realizes that his mother plans to sell this place that more than anywhere provides Kyle with his sense of home. Debut novelist Derby writes a quiet, solid, and benevolently old-fashioned story, skillfully balancing the explicit demands and strains of the situation with some implicit working through issues by narrator Kyle. She wisely avoids a too-easy conclusion that allows the family to keep the lake house; instead, Kyle retains access to the kind of summers he loves while accepting the changes to his family and their plans. The rustic details of a pre-internet (the book is set in the 1970s) lakeside summer, with a lot of fishing, a fair amount of freedom, and no indoor plumbing, will appeal to outdoorsy readers and may make converts of those unacquainted with such bucolic delights. Most kids are familiar with summer's tendency to offer the possibility of change as well as diversion, and they'll sympathize with Kyle as he rises to meet his challenges.

Kirkus Reviews

When his family returns to their Michigan lakeside cottage for the summer of 1974, "almost" 13-year-old Kyle's usual excitement quells as he confronts the realities of change.

Kyle loves the lake and its summer rituals, so returning "seems like a homecoming" even though it's different since his grandmother died and his dad moved out. After his mother unexpectedly lists the cottage with a realtor, Kyle feels like a "time bomb ready to explode," until he opts to savor his last summer at the lake. He accepts a daily job taking an elderly neighbor fishing, teaches his younger brother to fish and swim and explores the lake's mysterious island on his own. As Kyle traces his summer in the first person, he matures convincingly from a frustrated, angry kid into a thoughtful teen who accepts responsibility and wisely learns that "[m]ostly we don't know, about other people."

A poignant coming-of-age story rooted in realistic family relationships and lovingly glossed with the wonders of summer on a lake.


ISBN: 978-1-58089-316-9

ISBN: 978-1-58089-317-6

ISBN: 978-1-60734-506-0 EPUB
ISBN: 978-1-60734-183-3 PDF
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Ages: 10 and up
Page count: 192
5 12 x 8 14

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