Michael Chabon’s Summerland


It might be fair to describe Summerland as American Gods for children, although the plots aren’t even close: Summerland is about baseball and set in a fictitious land while American Gods is set in a very real America, though one in which the gods have come to Earth, quite literally.

Summerland starts in the real world, albeit in a fictitious location; Ethan Feld and his father have moved to “Clam Island”, an island in Puget Sound1, so that Mr. Feld can spend time developing mini-zeppelins for home transport, using his picofiber invention to create the supporting/lifting balloons. Ethan has been roped into playing on one of the local Little League teams, despite not being particularly good at baseball and less interested in learning to improve his playing technique. In a case of mistaken identity, he is sucked into the Summerland, a world in which the legends of Scandinavia blend with those of Native Americans, with a leavening of tall tales and cryptids2. He, his two friends and a collection of characters from the Summerland must play (baseball!) their way across the Summerland in order to reach Murmury Well before Coyote does in order to prevent Ragged Rock, and rescue Mr. Feld, captured by Coyote for his picofiber creation.

Baseball is treated very earnestly, on occasion in deadly earnest, in the Summerland, but the book itself is much more lighthearted, and almost nostalgic about baseball of the early 20th century. Call it something to read on a long warm sunny summer’s afternoon, and don’t forget the hotdogs and peanuts.

One of the reviewers on Amazon complained that the book is too complex for kids despite being obviously aimed at the prepubescent set…to which I say: Why not challenge kids? One of the complaints I often heard as a librarian was that some kids were reading far above their grade level but hadn’t yet hit the emotional maturity to move up to adult books, which have, not surprisingly, adult themes–sex, war, death and so on. Maybe, just maybe, turning a kid loose with a book that they don’t quite understand will inspire them to go look up who Achilles and Loki are, and find out who Mike Fink was. Or wasn’t.

For anyone who’s interested:
American Folklore
Tall Tale America, by Walter Blair
Norse Mythology
Native American Mythology

1Chabon may have been thinking of a real island, though I haven’t found proof; Clam Island reminds me of Vashon
2one of the characters is a Sasquatch, and the children’s team plays a game against “The Liars”, a group which includes Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and other characters from American Tall Tales

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