‘The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise’ by Dan Gemeinhart surprises, touches, and grabs readers

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With “The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise,” Dan Gemeinhart once again shows his writing super-power ability to simultaneously amuse, touch, fascinate, and grab readers by the heartstrings as they race through this story of a girl and her father who live a peripatetic life, traveling from place to place in their rehabbed school bus.

Coyote and her father, Rodeo, have lived on Yager, their converted school bus, and traveled wherever their whims have taken them. Want to walk on the beach? They’d head for the coast. Pulled pork sandwich? The best one is at Pork Chop John’s Sandwich Shop, in Butte, Montana.

Coyote and her father have endured tragedy together — Coyote’s mother and two sisters were killed in a auto accident five years earlier and since that time, Coyote doesn’t call Rodeo “Dad,” nor do they ever talk about their family. Her dad insists they move forward and not dwell on the past. But as Gemeinhart touchingly shows readers, the past can’t stay buried, and people who are gone still need to be part of our lives.

So when Coyote learns, during her weekly phone call to her Grandmother, that a park is being demolished in their former home town, she knows that she must go back, and get there and dig up the memory box she, her mother and her sisters buried there just before the accident. But she can’t let Rodeo know that that’s where they are going. So when they are in Naples, Florida, she suddenly gets a hankering for that perfect pulled pork sandwich from that sandwich shop in Butte, Montana. She’ll figure out how to get them the rest of the way when they get to Montana.

But what Coyote doesn’t expect is that the people she recruits to help them, and the people who help her, come to mean as much to her as family. And not all families are blood relations, and sometimes you sacrifice for those you love.

All of Gemeinhart’s books feature an important animal, and this book doesn’t disappoint. Ivan, named after the gorilla in Katherine Applegate’s “The One and Only Ivan,” perhaps one of the greatest children’s books ever (as the main character repeats), becomes an important part of the story. Those who don’t have a cat beware. Gemeinhart perfectly describes that feeling when a cat is sitting on your lap when you feel totally relaxed. When stress disappears. Gemeinhart explains that while he doesn’t currently have a cat, he’s a cat lover and has had some great ones over the years. He certainly shares that love in his depiction of Ivan.

Ivan is a great cat. And throughout the story, Gemeinhart pays tribute not only to Applegate, but to other children’s authors. Because Coyote does what many lonely people do, she reads books to keep her company. And one of the things they ask, before giving a ride to anyone, is what their favorite book is. That says a lot about a person. One might just get the impression that “The One and Only Ivan” is Gemeinhart’s favorite book, which puts him in good company.

This lovely book has many wonderful messages for readers, so it would be a fabulous read aloud — if the teacher can not keep from crying during some emotional scenes. (Have a box of tissue nearby.) There are many eminently discussable themes. How does loss affect different people? What is love and how do you show it? What is in a name? Why is it so important for a child to have a cat or dog or other animal? Is it ever all right to lie? Readers will think of many more questions that will lead to fascinating and in-depth discussions.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by Henry Holt and Company Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.

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