What's in a name?
"Each of us has a story and it starts with a name." But who would ever name a kid Dillon Dillon? And what's his story? Kate Banks, winner of the Charlotte Zolotow Award for her picture book, The Night Worker, has written a "Once upon a time" novel called Dillon Dillon that represents all that is wonderful about the best children's literature: a rich, philosophical narrative with layers and layers of meaning, told in spare, poetic prose. Themes include family, growing up, leaving home, death and the meaning of life.
On vacation on Lake Waban, in New Hampshire, Dillon receives a new red rowboat for his 10th birthday with "Dillon Dillon" painted in bold ivory letters on the stern. The holiday seems an appropriate time to pop the question he has always wondered about: "Why did you name me Dillon Dillon?" His parents' response sends Dillon on a quest to understand the story behind his name, a quest involving siblings, loons and a journey to an enchanted island.
Dillon and his little sister Daisy are "Hopers," looking for the magic and wonder in life. Maybe dragons do exist, maybe the sunshine on the swing does smell yellow, and maybe there is a land where musical notes continue playing after we no longer can hear them. And maybe there are enchanted or, at least, enchanting islands. Dillon finds out when he rows to an island and experiences life as a bird. He witnesses and participates in the day-to-day routines of a pair of loons as they prepare a nest in his left sneaker and hatch a baby loon right before his eyes. For a while, Dillon feels a part of the loon family, a family life that, curiously, parallels his own.
Dillon's older brother Didier is a realist. When he finds two dead loons, illegally shot, he says, "That's life." Dillon feels the sadness and wonder of death, but figures Didier is right: "Life ended with death. It did not matter that no one knew when or why." Over the course of the book, Dillon comes to understand that life is full of wonder, mystery and magic, as well as change, sadness and death.
Dillon Dillon is an unusually rich intermediate novel great for reading aloud at home or in school. Dillon takes a journey he will never forget, and readers will never forget Dillon.
Dean Schneider is a middle school English teacher in Nashville.