Sweeping Up the Heart

Sweeping Up the Heart
Age Range
Release Date
March 19, 2019
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Amelia Albright dreams about going to Florida for spring break like everyone else in her class, but her father—a cranky and stubborn English professor—has decided Florida is too much adventure.

Now Amelia is stuck at home with him and her babysitter, the beloved Mrs. O’Brien. The week ahead promises to be boring, until Amelia meets Casey at her neighborhood art studio. Amelia has never been friends with a boy before, and the experience is both fraught and thrilling. When Casey claims to see the spirit of Amelia’s mother (who died ten years before), the pair embarks on an altogether different journey in their attempt to find her.

Using crisp, lyrical, literary writing and moments of humor and truth, award-winning author Kevin Henkes deftly captures how it feels to be almost thirteen.

With themes of family, death, grief, creativity, and loyalty, Sweeping Up the Heart is for readers of Kate DiCamillo, Rebecca Stead, Lauren Wolk, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

Editor review

1 review
Gentle Summer Story
(Updated: February 20, 2019)
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Amelia lives a quiet life in a college town with her introspective father and kindly neighbor Mrs. O’Brien, who looks after her and provides her with delicious baked goods. Amelia's mother died when she was two, and she never really misses her, but she wishes her father were a bit more fun. When she is stuck in town during spring break, she spends a lot of time making clay creations at Louise's pottery shop, and befriends Louise's nephew Casey, who is spending his spring break with his aunt while his parents go on a marriage retreat to try to improve their troubled marriage. The two work on some clay projects and also spend time eating lunch in town and making up elaborate stories about the people they see in the street. Casey makes up a story about a woman he sees, and tells Amelia that it is her mother. It isn't, of course, but it IS the woman her father is dating. Her father is going to break up with Hannah, thinking that Amelia would not like such a drastic change in her life, but Amelia starts to realize that she would like a mother figure in her life, so she connects with Hannah and her father's relationship is given a new chance. Casey must return home, and his parents decide to separate.
Good Points
This reminded me a lot of the novels of Sarah MacLachlan or Cynthia Rylant's Rosetown-- short, quiet, and introspective. They all deal with a variety of sad things in a gentle way, and the children involved have a strong support network of caring adults. This book even references Emily Dickinson (the title is from one of her poems). I can see this being used as a class read aloud.

I loved that this shows children doing ordinary, slightly boring things in the summer in a small town. I especially liked the pottery painting shop; there was one at the end of my street growing up, and while I only went there a couple of times with a friend, I thought it was fascinating!

Middle grade students struggling with divorce and parents who are involved in relationships is something I would like to see more in literature. This topic is especially well covered here, as it is in Schwartz's Smart cookie, Weston's Speed of Life, and Cherry's Ella Unleashed.

Henkes, better know for his picture books about exuberant mice like Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, has a long history of very touching books, like The Zebra Wall, Olive's Ocean, and Junonia.
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