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The Firefly Summer

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About The Book

Three starred reviews!
“Heartfelt and hilarious, witty and wise, with indelible characters and laugh-out-loud humor. A fantastic read for any season of the year.” —Stuart Gibbs, New York Times bestselling author

In New York Times bestselling author Morgan Matson’s middle grade debut “brimming with heart, summer nostalgia, and a bit of mystery” (Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author), a young girl gets to know her mom’s side of the family and hunts for hidden treasure over the course of one chaotic summer.

For as long as Ryanna Stuart can remember, her summers have been spent with her father and his new wife. Just the three of them, structured, planned, and quiet. But this summer is different. This summer, she’s received a letter from her grandparents—grandparents neither she nor her dad have spoken to since her mom’s death—inviting her to stay with them at an old summer camp in the Poconos.

Ryanna accepts. She wants to learn about her mom. She wants to uncover the mystery of why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents all these years. She’s even looking forward to a quiet summer by the lake. But what she finds are relatives…so many relatives! Aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins—a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults. People who have memories of her mom from when she was Ryanna’s age, clues to her past like a treasure map. Ryanna even finds an actual, real-life treasure map!

Over the course of one unforgettable summer—filled with s’mores and swimming, adventure and fun, and even a decades-old mystery to solve—Ryanna discovers a whole new side of herself and that, sometimes, the last place you expected to be is the place where you really belong.

Excerpt

Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
I could tell something was wrong the second I came downstairs.

First of all, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table.

I know for most people, this might not be weird. Normal dads probably sit at kitchen tables all the time.

But we live in Los Angeles, and my dad is a writer—he writes screenplays. Not just everything the actors say—all the action and settings and everything else that happens in a movie has to be written down too. (Not everyone knows this. Nana, my dad’s mom, still thinks that the actors make up their own lines, no matter how many times my dad tells her otherwise.) He also used to direct movies, until his last one did so badly that now he’s in movie jail, and when we go on hikes, producers pretend they don’t see him when he waves.

But because of this, my dad was normally always busy writing something, and always in motion—pacing around our pool as he tried to figure out a story problem, or working in his office, or in meetings. He was almost never just sitting still at home. So right away, I knew something was up.

“What’s up?” I asked as I came into the kitchen.

I’d been upstairs reading, which was pretty much what I’d been doing since school let out last week. I’d managed to make it through the sixth grade, even though I barely passed PE. (My PE teacher didn’t seem to get that some people can climb ropes and some people can’t. And that no amount of encouraging me to do it would magically give me the ability as I spun in circles a few inches off the ground and everyone snickered.)

I’d been deep into a mystery—my favorite type of book to read. My current favorite series was Miss Terry’s Case Files, where the heroine, Terry Turner, is a seventh-grade detective who people hire to get to the bottom of things. Whenever I was reading those books, I couldn’t help wishing that I, too, lived in a small town in Vermont with lots of mysteries. Stupid Los Angeles had a lot of private detectives already, so nobody needed to turn to middle schoolers to solve their crimes.

“Why aren’t you working?” I asked my dad.

“I want to talk to you about something,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, sitting across from him, studying his expression and noticing that he looked pale. I frowned. “Are you remembering to take your B-12?”

“Ryanna,” my dad said, shaking his head. “Keeping track of vitamins is supposed to be my job. I should be asking you that.”

“Of course I’m taking all my vitamins. Are you taking your B-12?”

My dad sighed. “No.”

I nodded, satisfied, and headed to the cabinet, where I pulled the white bottle down. I knew most of my friends would not have any idea if their dad was taking his vitamins, and would probably be alarmed that this was something they were supposed to keep track of.

But it had been just my dad and me, ever since my mother died when I was three.

I’d basically grown up on movie sets with my dad all over the world. I loved everything about being on set—getting snacks at craft services (aka “crafty”), hanging out in the hair-and-makeup trailer and learning all the best gossip, the friends I’d make with the child actors, who were usually the only other kids around.

But mostly what I loved was that a movie set was a tidy, orderly universe. The day’s schedule was printed every morning and handed out—and it told you everything. The shot list and the time the sun would be coming up and setting. The times that different crew and actors would be arriving. When lunch would be and what we were having. While there were often a lot of surprises that cropped up while making a movie, the basic structure of the day was never in question. Everyone had a job, and if there was ever an issue, there were always lots of production assistants with walkie-talkies who could answer any questions for you.

But especially when my dad was directing, he was the one who was responsible for knowing everything, which meant it became my job to make sure that he was eating and drinking water and remembering to call Nana back so she wouldn’t panic and call his agent over and over again. When I started middle school, my dad said that he wanted to be home more, and we hadn’t spent much time on set since. But some habits were hard to break.

I handed him his vitamins. “Here.”

“Thanks. But I do need to talk to you, Ry. This is serious.”

“Okay,” I said, starting to get worried I was in trouble. But we’d already gotten my report card, which was fine except for the PE grade. “Is everything okay with Ginger?”

Ginger was my stepmother—she and my dad got married eight months ago in Ojai, which is a town two hours outside Los Angeles. (It’s pronounced “oh hi,” and my dad and Ginger made shirts to go in everyone’s welcome bags that read OJAI THERE, WELCOME TO THE WEDDING!)

They’d only dated for about a year before they got married, but it hadn’t come as a surprise to me. Dr. Ginger Kang was my pediatrician, and for once my dad came to my appointment, not my babysitter, and I watched them get googly eyes at each other right there in the office. They were talking so long that I finally left and went out into the waiting room to read an old issue of Highlights. (I still enjoyed the “What’s wrong with this picture?” puzzles, after all.)

And by the time my dad came to get me, with a dazed look on his face, I was pretty sure I knew where it was going.

I felt like everyone—my dad; my teachers; my old therapist, Dr. Wendy—had been expecting me to have a harder time with Ginger joining our family. But while it was definitely different, it mostly felt like things were pretty much the same, just with some added improvements. It helped that we moved into a new house right before the wedding so that, according to my dad, we could all start fresh as a family. I was thrilled because my new room had a window seat, something that I’d wanted ever since I’d read The Mystery of the Haunted Homestead, where someone finds a dead body in one. (When we moved in, there was nothing but dust bunnies in mine. I checked.)

And despite some small bumps along the way—Ginger organized the spice rack in a way I hated and kept changing back (she told me that eleven-year-olds shouldn’t have opinions about the spice rack)—things were definitely better now. My dad laughed more, there were plants all over the house, and we now had a cat, Cumberbatch, who spent all his time sleeping in sunbeams except when he woke up to yowl at us for food. Ginger had insomnia, so she was always online shopping late at night, which meant that clothes she’d picked out for me were constantly showing up (even if Ginger usually had very little memory of buying them). But even Insomnia Ginger had great taste, and when the packages arrived, we’d do fashion shows and try-ons in my room. She was great at braiding hair; she saw kids all day, so she knew about the cool sneaker trends; and she’d taught me about stuff like leave-in conditioner.

And best of all, she didn’t try to be my mom, or take over my life. It was like she understood it had just been me and my dad for a long time, and she was going to ease in rather than barge in. It had been so drama-free with Ginger that it made me wonder if all the fairy tales with evil stepmothers had been lying.

“Everything’s fine with Ginger,” my dad assured me.

“Talking about me?” Ginger asked as she came into the kitchen, a cover-up over her bathing suit. She grinned at me. “Want to go swimming, Ry?”

“I was just talking to Ryanna about the… conversation,” my dad said to Ginger, widening his eyes at her.

“Oh,” Ginger said, widening her eyes back. She opened the fridge and pulled out a water, then came to sit next to my dad. “Right.”

“What conversation?” I demanded. I felt out of the loop, which always made my mouth get dry and palms sweat.

“I received a letter last week,” my dad said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope, and from that, a folded piece of paper. “It was sent over a month ago, but it went to our old address.” He handed the paper to me, and I opened it up and smoothed out the creases.

Hello, David—

We know it has been a while. But we feel it’s time Ryanna gets to know where she comes from while she still can. We’d love to have her in Lake Phoenix for the summer.

If this is acceptable, please call.

Cal & Vivian Van Camp

I stared down at the letter. Where was Lake Phoenix? What did while she still can mean? But most importantly—“Who are Cal and Vivian Van Camp?”

My dad winced slightly, and Ginger reached out and gave his hand a squeeze. “Your grandparents. Your mother’s parents.”

“Oh.” I just blinked at him for a second, then looked down at the letter again. I knew Nana, my dad’s mom, who lived in New York City. (My dad’s dad died when he was in college.) And I’d gotten to know Ginger’s parents, who lived in the Bay Area and had taught me poker. But I had never once heard from these other grandparents before.

My dad never talked about my mom’s family, so I only knew the basics. She was one of five siblings, the middle one. She had two brothers and two sisters. But mostly, all the facts I knew about my mom were from when she was older: Her name was Cassandra, but everyone called her Casey. She was gorgeous, with long blond hair and a big smile. She died when I was three. She was crossing the street in New York City when a taxi had run the light, and hadn’t seen her in time. And she was an actress who’d met my dad on the set of Bug Juice, the first movie he wrote.

“I called them,” my dad said, making this sound like And then I went to the dentist. “They want you to come and spend the summer with them. And I told them I’d check with you.”

“But…” I looked between my dad and Ginger. Ginger had her serious face on, which was a real contrast to her cover-up, which had embroidered rabbits on it and read SUN’S OUT BUNS OUT. “The summer’s already started. We have a whole plan in place.”

I glanced over to the color-coded calendars that hung on the wall. I was going to go to a local day camp for June and half of July. Ginger had her practice, and my dad was going to be on set working. A movie he wrote, Frank N. Stein, was filming in eastern Europe this summer. It was a retelling of Frankenstein in which the monster was a zombie but also a single dad and somehow also a superhero? The last draft my dad let me read had been really confusing; he blamed the notes he was getting from the studio.

And then in mid-July, Ginger and I were going to fly out to Hungary and spend a few days on set, and then the three of us were going to tour around eastern Europe before heading home. It was the plan we’d worked out over weeks, and nowhere in that plan did I see room for hanging out with grandparents I didn’t even know.

Ginger looked at me with a sympathetic smile. “I know it’s a lot to take in.”

“Why haven’t we heard from them before?”

My dad and Ginger looked at each other without speaking. Finally, my dad said, “We had an argument a long time ago. And we all decided it would be better not to be in contact.”

“Nobody asked me.”

“You were three,” my dad said with a smile.

“Still.”

Ginger’s phone rang. Her eyebrows rose, and she got up to answer it, sliding her finger across the screen. “This is Dr. Kang,” she said, her voice going more serious and professional. Sorry! she mouthed as she headed out the back door, walking toward the pool. “Well, are you sure he ate it?” I heard her ask before the door slammed shut.

I picked up the letter again, trying to sort out what I was feeling. “Where is this?” I asked, tapping my finger on Lake Phoenix.

“It’s in Pennsylvania. About three hours from New York City.”

“I thought Mom was from Philadelphia.” The word “Mom” caught on my tongue, like it was rusty from lack of use. Sometimes when I’d be with friends, I’d notice the way they tossed “Mom” around, so carelessly, like they didn’t even realize that some people never got to say it. I was sure I must have said it when I was little, but since I couldn’t remember, did it even count?

“She was. But she always spent summers in Lake Phoenix. So when we were back east, we used to go.”

We who? You and Mom?”

“You too,” my dad said. “We brought you a few times. You don’t remember?”

I shook my head. Somehow adults always expected you to remember things that had happened when you were two years old. Even though they could never remember where they put their keys five seconds ago.

“You—your mother brought you up there when you were three. You spent almost the whole summer up there.”

“I did?”

“We actually met there. Your mom and me.”

I frowned—this didn’t sound right. “I thought you met on the set of your movie. That’s what you always told me.”

“But Bug Juice was filmed at their summer house. Casey was an extra until the director realized how good she was, and then her part got expanded.”

“Because you expanded it,” I said with a smile. I’d heard this part of the story before, and it always seemed so romantic to me. “Because you were falling in love with her.”

My dad smiled the sad smile he did whenever he talked about my mom. “Exactly.”

“But wait. Bug Juice is a movie that’s set at camp. How was it filmed at their house?” I’d never seen my dad’s first movie—it was adapted from a play, but the movie was changed a lot so that the characters were teenagers, and since it was PG-13, I was not allowed to see it. He’d shown me some clips of my mom from the movie, dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, herding campers into a cabin, but apparently I wasn’t going to be allowed to see the whole thing until I was thirteen.

My dad took a breath and explained how my mother’s family had run a summer camp in Pennsylvania until the nineties, when it closed down. But they still spent summers up there. And so when the Bug Juice production was scouting for locations, an unused summer camp was the perfect setup.

“So they want me to come to a camp for the summer?” It was like finding out that someone lived at a zoo. Who lived at a camp?

“It’s not a camp anymore. It’s more like… a house with a lot of archery targets.”

“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” It felt strange. Like there was a whole part of my life that had been shut off from me.

My dad looked down at the paper. “Like I said, I don’t… have a great relationship with your grandparents. And I don’t have the best memories of that place. But if you want to go, Ryanna, you can. Ginger and I think you’re old enough now to decide for yourself.”

“Of course I’m not going to go,” I said immediately, folding the letter up. The summer had been planned out already, after all. The calendar was all filled in.

A look of relief passed over my dad’s face. “Well, it’s your decision. Do you want to talk it through with Dr. Wendy?”

Dr. Wendy was the therapist I used to see once a week—my dad had found her for me after my mom died. He’d been worried about me processing my mother’s death, which I didn’t really understand, since I couldn’t even remember my mom. But I liked Dr. Wendy, even though half the time I wasn’t really sure why we were talking. And while it was nice to have someone to talk to about friends and grades and the current Miss Terry mystery I was reading, I’d asked my dad if I could stop seeing her this past year. He’d agreed but let me know that she would always be available in case of an emergency.

“No—” I started, just as my dad’s phone rang. He winced as he looked at it.

“Gotta take this,” he said. “It’s Annabeth.” Annabeth was my dad’s agent. She gave great holiday presents and terrified everyone around her, including my dad. He jumped to his feet and headed down the hall to his study.

I sat at the kitchen table in silence for a moment, then picked up the letter and the envelope—I figured that maybe it would be another eleven years before I heard from these grandparents again, so I might as well preserve a keepsake—and headed back up to my room.

As soon as I stepped inside, I could tell that something was off. I looked around, trying to see what it was, then noticed four books that had been knocked off my bookshelf onto the floor. “Cumberbatch!” I scolded. Cumberbatch was round and gray and fluffy, with a white splotch on his back, like someone had dropped paint on him. He was kneading my comforter with his paws, what Ginger always called “making biscuits” for some reason. He paused long enough to give me a withering look before going back to it.

I sighed and picked up the books. I had a system—it was why my dad and Ginger weren’t allowed to put things away in my room. I put the books back in their spot—alphabetically but also color coded—and I was grateful, for the thousandth time, that I didn’t have to share a room like some of my friends did. I knew I wouldn’t be very good at it.

I decided to forgive Cumberbatch, crossed over to my bed, and hopped up next to him. I gave his chin a scratch as he stretched out with a rumbly purr.

I rubbed the spot on his head he liked and glanced over at the framed photo on my nightstand—it was where I kept the last picture I had of my mother and me. We were in New York City, posed next to a serious-looking stone lion, both of us laughing so hard, our eyes were closed. I traced my finger over the glass, looking at my mother’s bright blond hair, how her hand was holding tight to mine.

I turned away from the picture—it was starting to make me sad—and folded up the note from my grandparents. I went to put it in the envelope… which was when I realized something else was in there.

I lifted out a photo, a printed-out one. Something about the colors—well, and the fact that it was a printed-out photo—made me think it was older. It was of a girl who looked my age. She was in a one-piece bathing suit with jean shorts over it, sitting under a picnic table. In the background, I could see a dock. She was holding what looked like a tackle box for fishing, but it was pink and purple and locked with a padlock. And she was raising one hand in a peace sign.

I looked closer—this girl looked a lot like me. She was blond, and I had dark red-brown hair, but besides that… I turned the picture over, holding my breath. Written on the back was:

Casey, Camp Van Camp.

12 years old.

I turned the picture over, my breath catching in my throat. This was my mom when she was around my age.

My mom looked like me. I looked like my mom.

I stared down at the letter my grandparents had sent. My thoughts were whirring. What did while she still can actually mean? Did it mean that this was a onetime offer? My only chance to go to Pennsylvania—wherever that was—and see more pictures like this of my mom?

Because suddenly that was all I wanted. I wanted to know more about her—much more than just the same stories I’d heard so often from my dad. And I wanted to know what had happened. Why hadn’t I heard from my mom’s family? What had gone on between my dad and my grandparents to cause a rift this big?

My eyes drifted over to my bookshelf. All my Miss Terry mysteries were neatly lined up—and it felt like they were scolding me. Because all this time, I had been living inside an actual mystery and I hadn’t even realized it, much less cracked the case.

But this was my chance to. I could go to Lake Phoenix—I could find out more about my mom. Because if there was this photo, there were more. Whole albums and lots of stories—stuff my dad probably didn’t even know. I’d get to hear all of it. And as an added bonus, I would get to the bottom of the feud.

It would mean upending all my summer plans—but the same thing had happened to Terry in The Hound of the Baskin-Robbins. She was supposed to go to Maine but then got pulled into a mystery about stolen ice cream scoopers. You always had to answer the call. And this was mine.

I jumped off the bed—Cumberbatch yowled at me, not happy that I stopped petting him—and took the steps downstairs two at a time.

The kitchen was empty, but my dad and Ginger were sitting on loungers by the pool, and I hurried out to join them.

“I’ve made a decision,” I said before I’d even reached them. I needed to say it before my mouth went too dry to talk. Before I started wondering if this was actually a good idea. “I want to say yes. I want to go to Lake Phoenix for the summer.”

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

The Firefly Summer

By Morgan Matson​

About the Book

For Ryanna Stuart, her life with her dad and stepmom has always been structured, planned, and quiet. But this summer, she’s received a letter from her grandparents—grandparents neither she nor her dad have spoken to since her mom’s death—inviting her to stay with them at an old summer camp in the Poconos.
Ryanna wants to learn about her mom, so she accepts. She wants to uncover the mystery of why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents all these years. She’s even looking forward to a quiet summer by the lake. But what she finds are relatives—so many relatives! Aunts and uncles and cousins upon cousins—a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults. People who have memories of her mom from when she was Ryanna’s age, clues to her past like a treasure map.
Over the course of one unforgettable summer, Ryanna discovers a whole new side of herself and that, sometimes, the last place you expected to be is the place where you really belong.

Discussion Questions

1. As The Firefly Summer opens, readers are introduced to Ryanna as she enters the room and declares, “I could tell something was wrong the second I came downstairs.” (Chapter one) In what ways is Ryanna’s ability to read her father’s behaviors indicative of her understanding that something unusual is happening? Based on what her dad shares, predict how this new plan for her summer might shake things up for her family and specifically for her.

2. As they chat, Ryanna asks her dad, “‘Are you remembering to take your B-12?’” (Chapter one) Though this may seem an unusual question for a twelve-year-old to ask, why is caring for her father so important to Ryanna? How does the fact that it’s just been two of them for as long as she can remember likely impact her need to ensure that his wellness is a priority?

3. Ryanna tells readers, “Mostly what I loved was that a movie set was a tidy, orderly universe.” (Chapter one) What can we learn about her personality based on this statement? In what ways might her desire for an “orderly universe” be a challenging goal for a summer spent with strangers, specifically the Van Camps?

4. Ryanna learns that just like her, her mother was a fan of mystery novels. How does finding out about this shared interest with her mom make her feel? As the story progresses, what are some of the other ways she learns she’s similar to her mom?

5. While describing Ginger, her stepmother, Ryanna states, “She didn’t try to be my mom or take over my life. It was like she understood it had just been me and my dad for a long time, and she was going to ease in rather than barge in.” (Chapter one) Do you believe Ryanna is lucky to be in such a position with a stepparent? Why or why not?

6. Ryanna shares that despite her mother being one of five children, “My dad never talked about my mom’s family.” (Chapter one) What are some possible motivations for him to remain silent and keep her away from that side of her family? Do you believe it to be the right decision on his part to do so? Explain your answer.

7. After learning that her grandparents want her to come spend the summer with them, Ryanna is initially hesitant and tells her father and Ginger, “‘The summer’s already started. We have a whole plan in place.’” (Chapter one) Despite her hesitance, what ultimately helps Ryanna decide she wants to go meet her mother’s family and spend the summer getting to know them? In your opinion, what are the greatest things she can gain from this opportunity?

8. After finding a photo that her grandparents sent of her mom at age twelve, Ryanna realizes that going to Pennsylvania this summer is suddenly all she wants. How does seeing this photograph of her mother at the same age as herself become a catalyst for Ryanna’s change of heart?

9. Ryanna offers, “All my Miss Terry mysteries were neatly lined up—and it felt like they were scolding me. Because all this time, I had been living inside an actual mystery, and I hadn’t even realized it, much less cracked the case.” (Chapter one) As a mystery lover, why is it important that Ryanna uncovers two mysteries: why her father hasn’t spoken to her grandparents for all these years and who her mother was as a young person? How might learning these things help Ryanna better understand herself and her family?

10. From what you’ve read about Ryanna early in the novel, what makes this opportunity important? What do you predict might be the biggest challenges? Based on textual examples—even though she’s quick to doubt herself—are there any specific ways she proves she made the right choice?

11. The Firefly Summer is told from a first-person narrator perspective. How would the story be different if it was told by multiple narrators rather than just Ryanna? Do you think changing or limiting the point of view would make the story better or worse? Why?

12. Before Ryanna leaves for the camp, her father gives her a cell phone, money, and a credit card and tells her, “‘The phone is a privilege, and it’s for emergencies only.’” (Chapter two) What do you believe her father is afraid will happen? How does being given these items by her dad make Ryanna feel? Have your parents ever offered you anything similar?

13. How does the Icee incident between Ryanna and her cousins Diya and Max at the PocoMart set the stage for how the summer might unfold? From your reading observations, how does Ryanna’s ultimate willingness to participate in the family’s camp initiation help turn things around?

14. Upon arrival at the camp, Ryanna quickly discovers that her aunts and uncles and cousins are a motley, rambunctious crew of kids and eccentric, unconventional adults who have collective memories of her mom they can offer her. What makes this connection to her family members precisely what Ryanna needs?

15. While his intentions are to be supportive, why does Ryanna’s dad seem quick to offer her opportunities to speak to Dr. Wendy, her therapist? While therapy is important, can you think of ways she might be better supported by her father?

16. Based on your observations, describe each of Ryanna’s family members. If you had the opportunity to meet her family, who do you think you’d like best and why?

17. As Ryanna discovers clues to her mother’s childhood while she explores Camp Van Camp with her cousins over the summer, finding the treasure her mother has left behind becomes critical. Why is Ryanna so convinced her mother has left behind something incredibly important to be discovered?

18. Consider the relationships between Ryanna’s cousins. What makes their bond special? In what ways do they support one another? What do you believe to be the biggest challenges to their relationships? Are there any ways in which you see similarities in these relationships with your extended family?

19. When Ryanna asks about her unusual name, her father tells her, “‘Your mom was stubborn. Once she wanted something, she was going to get it. She wanted to name her daughter Ryanna, and was firm on that. And by the time you came along, it just seemed like a given.’” (Chapter three) How does learning the history of her name and her mom’s commitment to using it help Ryanna better understand her mother and who she was as a person? Thinking about yourself, does your name have a history or a particular tie to someone special?

20. What are some of the ways that Holden Andersen proves he is not like his father? How does Rick Andersen’s poor behavior and unkind choices toward the Van Camps seem worse once the family discovers that their ancestors were previously best friends?

21. Based on what you learn through reading The Firefly Summer, who is the character you most identify with and for what reason? Of all the characters, who did you feel was most similar to you due to their personality or experiences?

22. By the novel’s conclusion, what do you think are the most important ways Ryanna’s life has been changed? What about the lives of her family members? Predict how things will be different for her moving forward.

Extension Activities

1. Design Your Own Treasure Map: At the conclusion of The Firefly Summer, Ryanna finally puts together the clues that lead her to her mother’s buried treasure. Consider the items her mother has buried: Why do they have enough significance to her to be left as a treasure? Next, think about the things you hold most dear. After taking time to reflect, make a list of treasures you’d hide to preserve or protect them.

Next, use the steps offered by National Geographic Kids found here to make a treasure map of your own: https://www.natgeokids.com/uk/home-is-good/how-to-make-treasure-map/

For added fun, gather some “treasures,” and bury them. After doing so, exchange maps with friends and go on a treasure hunt!

2. Sleepaway Camps: As Ryanna joins her mother’s family for their final summer at Camp Van Camp, she learns more about what life can be like at sleepaway camps. Begin by asking readers if any of them have been to a sleepaway camp, and if so, were any of their experiences like those in the novel? Next, have readers research the summer sleepaway camps in their area to discover the following:

o When was it established?

o How many campers does it have annually?

o How long are camp sessions?

o What are some of the activities that are advertised?

o Is the camp co-ed?

After they gather this info, have readers share what they learned with their peers.

3. Ships in Glass Bottles: Toward the end of The Firefly Summer, Ryanna and Holden search his father’s ship collection in hopes of finding the missing deed to the Van Camp land sold to the Van Camps by Holden’s grandfather. As a group, watch the following “How To” video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33ihECpRQ-c

After watching the brief video, use the following Wiki-How to allow readers to create their own ship in a bottle: https://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Ship-in-a-Bottle

4. S’mores Night: Coming together over a bonfire to feast on s’mores is a family tradition of the Van Camps with each family member having their own favorite way of preparing their s’mores. Using the s’mores creation suggestions offered to Ryanna by her family, gather a variety of s’mores ingredients and celebrate your reading of The Firefly Summer by toasting s’mores (with supervision) and hosting a book discussion. If a trip to the great outdoors isn’t available, move your party inside and use microwave or oven prep tips offered online, and follow these science-based campfire chocolate s’mores tips, offered here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYPoQlWqodQ

5. Gather a Bird Herd! From her grandmother, Ryanna learns that incredible bird species can be discovered and watched with some time, patience, and outdoor observation. For novices, use the various tips and activities offered to young people learning to bird by the Audubon Society here: https://www.audubon.org/news/easy-ways-get-kids-birding. Next, take these tips and go on a bird-spotting tour in your neighborhood or at a local park. As an activity add-on, consider doing some research in advance to discover what types of birds are regularly seen locally, so a “Spot the _” game can be crafted.

6. Create Your Own Game: In The Firefly Summer, besides playing kickball, holding water races, and building sandcastles, Ryanna and her cousins create original games like ActionBall and AquaBall for the family to play. Using their creative ideas as inspiration, design a game of your own, being sure to name your game and write out the rules. Remember, games can be created for both indoor and outdoor play, and they don’t have to be limited to equipment or cards. After designing your game, gather players and give it a test run!

This guide was created by Dr. Rose Brock. Rose is an associate professor in the Library Science Department in the College of Education at Sam Houston State University and holds a Ph.D. in Library Science, specializing in children’s and young adult literature.

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

About The Author

Photograph (c) Gina Stock

Morgan Matson is the New York Times bestselling author of six books for teens, including Since You’ve Been Gone and Save the Date, and the middle grade novel The Firefly Summer. She lives in Los Angeles but spends part of every summer in the Pocono Mountains. Visit her at MorganMatson.com.

Why We Love It

“Morgan Matson brings her signature humor and warm family dynamic to her middle grade debut. Her writing is as witty as ever, and this will be perfect for readers of The Penderwicks and The Vanderbeekers, who are looking for another laugh-out-loud, raucous story of a large, close-knit family clan in an atmospheric setting that is drenched in summer sun.”

—Justin C., SVP, Publisher, on The Firefly Summer

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (May 2, 2023)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534493353
  • Grades: 3 - 7
  • Ages: 8 - 12
  • Fountas & Pinnell™ Y These books have been officially leveled by using the F&P Text Level Gradient™ Leveling System

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Raves and Reviews

"Matson, whose previous books were written for young adults, makes her middle-grade debut with this endearing book for tweens."

– Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, 05/15/2023

"Matson’s vibrant setting, peopled with an easygoing extended family that encourages free play, is irresistibly rendered, while Ryanna’s quest to learn more about her mother, as well as her father’s falling out with the family, imbues the carefully plotted central mystery with emotional resonance."

-Publishers Weekly, STARRED, 3/20/2023

"Like a great summer camp, this tale evokes the best of the past while setting the stage for something new."

-Kirkus Reviews, STARRED, 3/1/23

"Morgan Matson’s middle grade debut is brimming with heart, summer nostalgia, and a bit of mystery too! This is the kind of book you wish you could live in."

– -Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times Bestselling author

"The Firefly Summer is a deeply satisfying story - well crafted, evocative and so funny. It's whole hearted and deliciously timeless-capturing the feeling of a truly magical summer."

– -Adele Griffin, two-time National Book Award nominee and author of The Beckett List

"A sparkling middle-grade debut."

– -Sarah Mlynowski, New York Times bestselling author of Whatever After

"The Firefly Summer is heartfelt and hilarious, witty and wise, with indelible characters and laugh-out-loud humor. A fantastic read for any season of the year."

– -Stuart Gibbs, New York Times Best Selling author of Spy School

“I loved this book - I laughed and cried and immediately craved s’mores.”

– - Julie Buxbaum, New York Times bestselling author of The Area 51 File

"The Firefly Summer is an ode to warm summer nights, bittersweet memories, and the enduring love of family. I loved every page of this charming, clever story."

– -Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of The Only Black Girls in Town

“Mystery! Humor! Dead lizards? The Firefly Summer has it all - I loved it!”

– – Max Brallier, New York Times bestselling author of the The Last Kids On Earth

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