Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls

Oct 5, 2017

Summer was made for reading, and this book was made for summer. Out of everything we read over the break, this one was our favorite.

Jay Berry Lee has always dreamed of owning his own horse and gun, but his chances of getting either are pretty slim; the farm he lives on with his mother, father, and sister just barely makes enough for them to live on. But then one day, he thinks he sees a monkey in the bottoms by his home, which seems crazy given that this is Missouri, but his grandpa confirms that it's true. A large group of monkeys escaped from a traveling circus, and the owners are offering a big reward to anyone who can capture and safely return them: two dollars for each monkey and one hundred dollars for the chimpanzee.

Suddenly, Jay Berry's dream of a horse and gun doesn't seem so outlandish at all. He expects to pocket the money within the week, but he doesn't take into account the intelligence of those monkeys, and time after time, they outsmart him and send him crawling shamefaced back to his grandpa for another idea.

Ever optimistic and persistent, Jay Berry's grandpa is a fountain of good ideas: "If this doesn't work, we'll try something else." Their relationship is sweet and funny and respectful. He's exactly the kind of role model and mentor you'd want for your child--doesn't take life too seriously while still being honest and hard working and encouraging. At one point, Jay Berry says, "Grandpa, we sure have a lot of fun together, don't we?" And Grandpa smiles and replies, "We surely do. You know, an old man like me can teach a young boy like you all the good things in life. But it takes a young boy like you to teach an old man like me to appreciate all the good things in life. I guess that's what life's all about." Seeing the way they interacted with each other was one of my favorite parts of the story.

Several weeks into the monkey hunting adventure, Jay Berry and his family find what looks like a fairy ring. They decide not to let it go to waste, and each one takes a turn stepping inside it and making a wish. Afterwards, Jay Berry asks his papa if he thinks those wishes will come true, and he says,
"Son, that's a pretty hard question to answer. But I do believe that any wish you make can come true if you help the wish. I don't think that the Lord meant for our lives to be so simple and easy that every time we wanted something, all we had to do was wish for it and we'd get it. I don't believe that at all. If that were true, there would be a lot of lazy people in this old world. No one would be working. Everyone would be wishing for what they needed or wanted."

And you definitely see that idea in action during the course of the story. Jay Berry is persistent and determined, and he doesn't let his failures get him down. 

I've thought often about what makes a five-star book for me, and quite often, it's very arbitrary--does it make me feel like a five-star book should make me feel? But at least one criterion I have is whether or not the ending matches the rest of the story because I can't tell you how many books I've read where I love the whole book, and then the ending completely ruins it.

But you don't need to worry about that happening with this book. If making me cry is any indicator, then Wilson Rawls nailed the ending. I won't spoil anything here, but I will leave you with this shining moment:
"'Son . . . You grew ten feet tall today. I'm proud of you. I'd like to shake your hand.'
"I shook hands with Papa for the first time in my life. It felt like all his strength came right up my arm and spread through my body."
So I guess this was a five-star book.


  1. Yay! I'm so glad you liked it! This was absolutely one of my most favorite, memorable read alouds from when I was a kid (didn't I recommend it on our read-aloud episode?). It's just so good. Can't wait to read it to my kids some day.

  2. I loved reading this book with my kids. I still remember my son (soon to be 33) asking, "Mama, are your crying again?" And the fact that it was set in OK was wonderful for this native born Okie.


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