A Ray of Light in a Sea of Darkness: A Review of Sunshine

Marion Dane Bauer
Candlewick Press
May 18, 2021
Ages 8-12


Ben is the only kid in his class without a mother. Unlike his peers, Ben’s mother left him and his father when he was just three years old. He only knows what his father told him—that she lives on a remote island in northern Minnesota as a writer, and that she loves him. Although Sunshine (Ben’s imaginary dog) has always been there to comfort him, Ben still longs to be like everyone else: a kid with a mother. He plans to persuade his mother to come home with a weeklong visit in her rustic cabin. Once she sees what a great son he is, she’ll come back, and they’ll be family again. However, upon spending time with his mother, Ben becomes torn between wanting to be with her, and the anger he feels toward her for leaving him alone all these years.

Sunshine is a somber story about a child trying to put his broken family back together. Bauer illustrates the strong emotions that overwhelm children with Ben’s angry outbursts, guilt, and unhealthy attachment to his imaginary dog Sunshine. She uses the mother and son duo to depict how complicated love can be and how our emotions affect our actions. Bauer also explores the tough subjects of child abuse, anxiety, and mental health, showing how a parent’s unhappy childhood can affect how they treat their own children. Still, watching Ben let go of Sunshine, become independent, and learn to cope with his emotions brings a ray of light to this dark tale.