The Summer of the Swans

by Betsy Byars

Paperback, 1970


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J By


Scholastic Inc. (1970), Edition: Reprint Edition, 142 pages


A teen-age girl gains new insight into herself and her family when her developmentally disabled brother gets lost.

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User reviews

LibraryThing member pvhslibrarian
Sara’s life has always flowed smoothly, like the gliding swans on the lake, until her little brother Charlie disappears. Then Sara is forced to see her life in a whole new way.
(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 24 Apr 2009 07:58:23 -0400)

Personal Review:

Betsy Byars gives a very small slice of a girl's
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life, just a few days, but in that time you come to learn and identify with the many questions pounding in her head. A quick step back in time that will entertain generations for years to come. Every reader will learn the importance of family bonds.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
This is the perfect contained story - the action all takes place within about a day or so. Ms Byars captures that crazy time when one is leaving behind childhood - when emotions are all over the place, when everything about one's body is a potential thing to dislike. Then she adds into the mix the
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unusual situation - living with an aunt, having an absent father - physically and emotionally, loving a little brother who is mentally disabled. Very nicely done.
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LibraryThing member simss
This book is about two children who parents one died and other is not in their life lives their aunt willie in charge of them ans she take them to go see swans to get their minds off things they see swans one day and they think the swans are fascinating ans do not want to leave.

My personal
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experience is when my mom always tells me about how her mom died and one way that she would cope is she would talk about the things that she loved about her the most and go through pitures that she had of her mom.

Classroom extensions would be have students write about what they do when they want to remember a lost loved one.
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LibraryThing member goodnightmoon
A book focused on internal thoughts and feelings more than external events, Summer of the Swans is an accurate portrayal of a teenage girl's turmoil. Actually, its style reminded me of Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins - low-key summertime angst. But the downfall of this book is its inability to age
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well, since it's such a literal slice of life. I would never recommend this book to modern youngsters, since its dated language would be too hard to wade through.
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LibraryThing member ds119933
The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars is a Newbery Medal winner and is about a young girl, Sarah, who has a beautiful older sister and a brother who has special needs. She feels stuck and would like to take off just like the swans that come to the lake. During this time of her awkward stage of her
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life, her brother Charlie goes missing. He has wondered away from home and is lost. Everyone in town is out looking for him, including Sarah and a boy whom she dislikes. In the end, they find Charlie and Sarah finds out that the boy is really nice and maybe her life is not so bad after all.

I enjoyed reading this book. It kind of reminded me of how I felt sometimes when I was about the same age as Sarah. This book is simple yet very effective. The reader can place his or herself in the character’s shoes.

I would use this book as a read aloud to my students when there might be a situation that arises in the classroom or school that involves a special needs child. This would also be good to have available to young girls to read. this book could also be used for writing prompts like how would you feel if you were lost.
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LibraryThing member sllumpkin
It is nearing the end of the summer and Sara has been largely responsible for her brother Charlie all summer. While he looks like an ordinary young boy, Charlie actually has some mental problems which developed when he was very young. One afternoon, Sara takes Charlie to see the swans on a local
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lake. Later that evening, while everyone is asleep, Charlie goes out on his own to find the swans. Due to the darkness and his being alone, Charlie becomes disoriented and lost in the woods. Word gets out that Charlie is missing and it causes uproar in the town as everyone lends a hand in the search for Charlie.
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LibraryThing member bknight07
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Age: 4-6
Summary: The main character is a young girl (middle school) that is very concerned with herself. She constantly wants to be prettier and to have a better life. Her little brother is mentally retarded and gets made fun of often. The main character protects her brother
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from the verbal abuse of outsiders. After taking him to see the swans, he sneaks off at night to find them on his own. He gets lost, causing the entire community to come together to search for him. The main character learns a valuable lesson and learns how to focus more on important things than her physical appearance. This book is eye opening for children to read about mental retardation.
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LibraryThing member SPED517
Neil’s sister Gerri has come back from the home for mentally challenged people and his mother is determined to never let her go back again. Gerri has never learned how to speak English, but she does often repeat what sounds like reindeer names to try to help get her point across. At night, she
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bangs her head against the wall, causing neighbors to make complaints to the landlord. Neil loves his sister and tries his best to help out, but his parents start arguing and Neil, who has never felt like he fits in, starts getting in trouble at school. When Neil’s dad moves out and pressures him to come with him, it doesn’t help the situation. But slowly, through the support of Neil and her mother, Gerri’s condition begins to improve. She learns a few words, the banging stops and she becomes more perceptive and thoughtful, charming the angry neighbors.

While it is nice to see Gerri improve, the book could be much better written. Children will not likely pick up this book on their own.
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LibraryThing member ALelliott
Byars, Betsy. The Summer of the Swans. NY: Viking. 1970.

Although we aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover, I was drawn to this book by the groovy swan art that decorated it. This sweet, slow-moving story about fourteen-year old Sara’s struggle to find her place in her family didn’t
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really take me to a groovy place, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Sara lives with her aunt, her beautiful older sister, and her mentally retarded brother. At fourteen, she is at the age where emotions can change in an instant, whether it’s the way she feels about her orange sneakers, or the way she feels about her family. Both of her siblings get the lion’s share of the attention; her sister for her beauty, her brother for his disability. Like most young teenagers, Sara is struggling to define her own identity and to find independence, and she views her family with a mixture of frustration and love. Charlie, her little brother, best represents this dual thought. Even though she loves him dearly, she can’t help but be irritated by his stubbornness and slowness. But when Charlie disappears, she learns just what it means to love and be loved.

Byars does a great job of portraying her characters, especially Charlie. She makes the delicate choice to write part of the story from his point of view, and it adds depth to the narrative. Sara is a typical teenager, spirited but whiny, but her transformation is moving and feels true to life. While the book is light on plot, at least until Charlie disappears, it moves forward by the grace and realism of its characters. All in all, a nice little book to help kids learn to look outside themselves and see the world from another’s point of view.

For ages 10-14.
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LibraryThing member smg626
The1970's seem so long ago - you almost feel the setting of this story as a historical period. However, the issues faced in this story are timeless: dealing with inner the conflict of the turbulent teens and dealing with a brother who is "special". What made this story interesting was the process
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of Sara's change of heart for Joe Melby.
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LibraryThing member ptnguyen
Byars, B. (1970). Summer of the swans. New York, NY: Puffin Books.
It is a coming-of-age novel about 14-year-old Sara’s transition from childhood to adulthood. She feels insecure, unattractive, and awkward about her body and herself altogether. Sara is bitter about her father’s lack of
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involvement in her life. In addition, she is confused about everything that is revolving around her, such as her bossy but beautiful sister, Wanda, and her mentally-retarded brother, Charlie. Sara is resentful towards Charlie whom she has to take care of, which she feels is a burden. One day Sara takes her brother a lake full of swans; Charlie becomes mesmerized by the white, graceful creatures and does not want to leave. The lake full of swans becomes a special place for Sara and Charlie. When Charlie disappears one night to find the swans, Sara blames herself for his disappearance. The story’s target audience is children ages 9-12.
What makes this book unique is the confused but rather profound relationship between Sara and her brother, Charlie. I can feel Sara’s confusion and insecurity of the world around her. A special aspect of the story is the author’s adept description of Sara’s world and everything that is taking place. I come to sympathize and connect with Sara. What I learned from this story is that disability is not something we want when we are born. In return, we ask for compassion, tolerance, and acceptance from our family, friends, and the society.
A book that was written in the same decade as Summer of the Swans is Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt written in 1975. It deals with issues of immortality and personal choice.
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LibraryThing member marisa_9087
It is near the end of the summer and Sara has been responsible for her watching her brother Charlie all summer long. Charlie looks like any ordinary young boy but sadly Charlie actually has some mental problems that developed when he was a young child. One afternoon, Sara takes Charlie to see the
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swans on a local lake. Later that evening, while everyone is asleep, Charlie goes out on his own to find the swans. Due to it being dark and charlie being alone, Charlie becomes disoriented and gets lost in the woods. They notice charlie missing and the word gets out that Charlie is missing and it causes uproar in the town as everyone lends a hand in helping find Charlie

I think this book is very good to read to the children to help them understand mental retardation. It presents the proplem in a non bias fashion.

In the class room i would first have an extended lesson over the posing problem to help the children understand the situation clearly i would then have a fun activity with them and have them create swans out of white construction paper and tissue paper.
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LibraryThing member TeacherLibrarian
Byars, Betsy. The summer of the swans. (1970). New York: Viking Kestrel.

Sara Godfrey is a 14-year-old girl living with her Aunt Willie, her sister Wanda, and her 10-year-old brother Charlie in West Virginia in the early ‘70s. Charlie suffered a brain injury after an illness caused a high fever
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when he was three years old. It is summer time, and Sara is completely out of sorts with herself. She’s happy with her orange shoes one day and hates them the next; she thinks she’s unattractive; she envies her pretty sister; she feels pity for her brother for the first time in her life; and she suddenly sees her aunt as course. Then Charlie gets lost in the woods, and while she and the rest of the town look for him, she gets help from Joe Melby whom she believed had stolen Charlie’s watch four months before. As they search, Sara realizes how unimportant her concerns about her looks, her shoes, life had been and how wrong she’d been about Joe Melby. When she finds Charlie, she has changed. She now sees that she has come out from a shadow and her life is ahead of her offering an unlimited opportinity to move ahead.

This book incisively expresses the unsettled feelings of children as they reach adolescence. As Sara sees the opportunities her life can bring, she also recognizes that Charlie’s life is so much more difficult than hers, and she sees how her father, who changed drastically when Charlie got sick and her mother died, has stopped moving forward in his own life. Summer of the Swans reflects the difficulty of growing up that any child has in any time and any culture. Even though the story was published in 1970, the characters are still realistic to children today. Sara’s concerns about her looks and her constantly changing beliefs and emotions are all things children can recognize in their own lives. The book deals with Sara’s feelings about her brother insightfully. She is fiercely protective of him, yet in her emotional turmoil, she calls him “retarded” for the first time in her life. The book shows how ashamed she is of this and reflects the incredible bond a child can have with a brother or sister who has a disability. This book also helps children who haven’t had a relationship with a child with a cognitive disability to understand such children’s thought processes and their need for order and routine.

The illustrations are detailed ink drawings that simply but beautifully reflect the characters and what they are doing at the point in the text where they appear.
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LibraryThing member scadd07
This book is a good example of Realistic Fiction because the characters are all believable to be real people, and are living out real situations. The point of view in this story is third person, but switches its focus on characters between Sarah and Charlie each chapter. I liked this switch,
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because it gave the reader a better perspective of what was really going on, and was not limited to one character. This book is for an intermediate or advanced reader.
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LibraryThing member briannad84
I always heard the title of this book while growing up and actually picked up and read a copy when I was 25. It was a bit different from what I thought it would be, but still a good story. I loved the part about Sarah trying to dye her orange shoes blue!
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Sara lives with her aunt, older sister Wanda, and mentally challenged brother Charlie. After Sara takes Charlie to the lake to watch the swans he decides to try and find them again when he can't sleep. Instead, he becomes lost in the woods, far from the comfort and security of home. I found the
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most interesting part of the book the scenes from Charlie's point of view. It was interesting to see what he focused on and how his thoughts were organized. Overall, I thought Sara was a bit whiny and irritable, however, kids may find her relatable.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Sara is not enjoying her summer. She feels like she is on the other end of a teeter-totter, with a companion determined to jerk her here and there. Her family is difficult and she can’t seem to get along with them, especially her troubled brother, Charlie. It is only when Charlie gets lost while
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searching for the beautiful swans on the lake that Sara learns what is really important and how to deal with problems.The conversations in this book felt tied to their time period and, at first, I didn’t think I was going to like the book. But the search for Charlie completely changed my feelings about the book. The author could have easily turned the book into a movie-of-the-week, but she stayed away from that. Instead, she used the situation to help all her characters grow.
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LibraryThing member shelf-employed
Summer of the Swans is the classic story of Sara, a young, angst-filled teenager, who lives with her brain-damaged younger brother, Charlie, her older sister, Wanda, and her Aunt Willie. In the midst of a difficult summer in which Sara struggles with her self-confidence and indeed, her sense of
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self, she learns, through Charlie’s disappearance, the importance and true measure of love, family, and self.

This is a timeless story; although, because of its age (first published in 1970 with numerous reprintings), it can almost read as historical fiction. Sara’s friend, Mary, does her hair up in “rollers” to attend a party. Charlie is called “retarded.” Aunt Willie, flustered by Charlie’s disappearance and unable to think clearly, makes an “operator-assisted” call; and the 1960s and 70s television icons, The Jolly Green Giant, Gentle Ben, and Green Acres are mentioned. Regardless of these dated references, however, this is a gentle, timeless, positive novel that still resonates with a generation raised on iTunes and Wii.
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LibraryThing member LeHack
The story is about a brother with developmental disabilities and his sister. Opportunity for discussion about sensitivity to those with MR/DD and how it affects families.
LibraryThing member FriendsLibraryFL
A teen-age girl gains new insight into herself and her family when her mentally retarded brother gets lost.
LibraryThing member ChelseaRenee
Summary: This is a book about a young girl named Sara who's disabled brother goes missing and in the search for him she learns the true meaning of family and love

Personal Reaction: I thought this was a very sweet book it shows people the importance of family and how you need to cherish everyday
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Classroom Extension Ideas:
1. You could talk to the children about a time they lost something or someone that they thought they would never see again to help them relate more to the book.
2. You could have them draw swans or maybe use origami to create their own
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LibraryThing member fatlamb
I really wanted to give this book more than two stars. It is a good book, well written, but it just was not for me. The book does portray the realities of children today fighting with popularity, being attractive enough, being accepted by peers, missing father thus living with extended family
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members, and having to take on big responsibilities at a young age (Sara taking care of her brother Charlie who is mentally handicapped). Controversial aspects are not on the for front of this book. The book does teach us what we may know may not always be the truth. Charlie becomes missing, Sara and the whole town search for Charlie. There is a boy who Sara dislikes (Sara believes that Joe is the one who stole Charlie's watch and does not want his help and does not like him one bit). Sara is touched by his willinness to help find Charlie and she finds out Joe did not in fact steal Charlie's watch. Sara realizes her life before losing Charlie in reality was not that bad at all and feels guilty for being so miserable and now she truly does feel miserable. Charlie is found, Sara talks with her father via the telephone and you get a sense that she is beginning to understand what is important in life, the ones you love not the color of your shoes.
Ages 9-12
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LibraryThing member ElenaEstrada
“Summer of the Swans” by Betsy Byars received The Newberry Medal, it may be that the committee appreciated novels that attempted to present imperfect characters. Sara is fourteen, she apparently finds fault in everyone and everything around her. The main character is facing her reality. She
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sees how her and her siblings have been emotionally abandoned by their father, her controlling aunt who worries and nags, and most importantly her mentally ill brother who constantly needs to be taken care of. It is a coming of age story, as the young girl grapples with an imperfect world. However, life takes a sudden turn when her brother is lost in the forest. The community comes together to form a rescue party, and all of a sudden her priorities are in order because she recognizes all the love that is around her in an imperfect world.
Ages 4th grade and Up
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars won the Newbery Medal in 1971. The title of the book refers to a little boy’s fascination with the birds. Charlie (who is mentally handicapped) and his sister Sara live with their Aunt Willie. The story begins with Sara’s dissatisfaction with herself and her
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life, but when Charlie goes missing, she puts all that behind her to help find her brother.

While I appreciated Sara’s growth in the book and the tenderness between Sara and Charlie, it definitely isn’t one of the stronger Newberys that I’ve read. It is positive in its illustration that family relationships are more important than selfish concerns, but the book just didn’t grab me. To be fair, my conclusion could be based on the mediocre performance of the audio narration, which I didn’t at all care for.

1970, 144 pp.
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LibraryThing member Marshahawkins
I read this book because it was required for my daughter's summer reading. I enjoyed the book because I appreciated the honesty in which the main character expresses her often-contradictory emotions. She really doesn't know why her emotions are swinging back and forth and she's incredibly
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self-centered. Sound like a girl beginning puberty to this mom, which is quite evident to me but I think it was lost on my daughter. Also, I appreciated the special relationship she has with her special needs brother and actually uses her instincts to find him once he goes missing. I could just see this young girl grow up in front of my eyes. However, just like Judy Blume's books, this one needs some updating. I don't think young people would understand some of the setting such as the TV shows and the fact that her friend must walk around with curlers in her hair. Unfortunately, small details like this can distance a reader from a basically good story. It's important for the reader to see her/himself in the characters here, and I think generally young readers might fall into this trap. This is one of the those books that adults love, but kids rather leave on the shelves. Too bad.
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Sequoyah Book Award (Nominee — Children's — 1973)
Newbery Medal (Medal Winner — 1971)


Original publication date



0590478133 / 9780590478137


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