The Lemonade War books are precisely the kinds of stories I loved as a kid - they stick close to home, involve real life problems, and always come to a happy conclusion. This third book of the series, entitled The Bell Bandit, sees siblings Evan and Jessie Treski undergoing a period of change. Their grandmother has started to lose her memory, and recently she accidentally set her house on fire by leaving a burner on. When Jessie, Evan, and their mom visit her for New Year’s, Evan is surprised that his grandmother doesn’t seem to remember him, and Jessie is devastated to learn that the bell they ring every New Year’s Eve to welcome the new year has gone missing. Jessie, determined to keep things as familiar as possible, enlists the help of Maxwell, a neighbor boy who has autism, in helping her solve the mystery of the missing bell.
This heartwarming story continues with many of the story threads from the first two books. Evan and Jessie continue to grow apart, as Evan spends more time listening to his iPod and Jessie continues to wonder why her brother doesn’t want anything to do with her. As Grandma’s condition becomes apparent, however, the two still find they need each other. Evan, especially, realizes that Jessie’s puzzle-solving skills are the one thing that might be able to help him find his grandmother, after she goes missing on a late-night walk. Though there are some outside influences - Maxwell, a couple of neighborhood bullies, and another neighbor who helps to fix Grandma’s burned house - this story really comes back to the core family bonds that made the first book so satisfying. The author has a real talent for describing kids’ emotions in a whole host of situations, and that makes Jessie and Evan seem much more real than many other middle grade characters.
Like the first two books, which lent themselves nicely to curriculum connections with math and social studies, this one could be associated with map skills, as Jessie and Maxwell construct a map of the neighborhood to help them locate the bell. It’s also a gentle introduction to the difficulties of helping a family member with dementia which might help comfort and guide kids who are facing that experience. It’s also great to see a character with autism involved in a story where he isn’t labeled, and where his differences are an asset to the story, not just an opportunity to teach a lesson about disabilities.
For another heartwarming family story involving siblings and an ailing grandparent, try Ten Rules for Living With My Sister by Ann M. Martin. Additional read-alikes include Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli, The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin, and Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy stories.
I borrowed The Bell Bandit from my local public library.