Ways to Make Sunshine

Ryan’s name means “king,” and she is determined to grow into the name her parents gave her. She is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, sister, and friend. But Ryan has a lot on her mind.

For instance, Dad finally has a new job, though money is still tight. That means moving into a new house, and Dad working the night shift. Also, with the fourth-grade talent show coming up, Ryan wonders what talent she can perform on stage in front of everyone without freezing. As more changes and challenges come her way, Ryan always finds a way forward and shows that she is a girl who knows how to glow.

Ryan deals with real issues, including arguing with her brother and having stage fright. The story hits on several difficult topics such as family financial difficulties and having a best friend move away. Despite this, none of the topics are well developed. However, Ryan does tackle each obstacle and tries to see the bright side of things.

Most of the conflict comes from Ryan arguing with her brother as well as some friendship issues. While the conflicts are realistic, none of them are very exciting. The story portrays Ryan’s family in a positive manner and her parents always encourage her to do her best. Despite this, Ryan still has stage fright and is unable to say a poem during church. Ryan’s mother doesn’t reprimand her but instead encourages Ryan to try again. In the end, Ryan is able to gain confidence and overcome her stage fright.

Ways To Make Sunshine shows how Ryan uses the power of positive thinking to overcome many obstacles. Another positive lesson the book teaches, is that beauty doesn’t come from looks. Ryan’s grandmother says, “Your kindness makes you beautiful and the way you’re always willing to offer help makes you beautiful.” Another positive aspect of the story is the cute, black-and-white illustrations that appear every 4 to 11 pages.

Ryan is a relatable African-American character. However, the story is realistic fiction and does not have much action or adventure. If you like cooking disasters, sibling squabbles, and friendship drama, then Ways To Make Sunshine will entertain you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a book with similar themes but more action, take a look at The Friendship War by Andrew Clements or Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn.

Sexual Content

  • None


  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None


  • None


  • Ryan and her brother, Ray, find a container with keepsakes inside. Ray thinks it belongs to a dead person. “Maybe the spirit of whoever lived here before is angry because we went through her things. Maybe she’ll haunt me every night till I put them back where she left them.”

Spiritual Content

  • At church, Ryan and the other children say a speech every Easter and Christmas. None of the speeches are shown in the book.
  • When Ryan is unable to say her speech, she runs off the stage and wonders “why Jesus’ love for us has to be celebrated by torturing children to memorize poems.”
  • At dinner, Ryan’s father prays. “God, we thank you for this food. Please bless it and bless the hands that prepared it.”
  • When Ryan’s father prays, Ryan wonders “if God will bless me even though I’ve made Ray’s food extra, extra, extra hot.”
  • When Ryan and Ray’s parents announce that they are having another baby girl, Ray asks why the baby isn’t a boy. Their dad says, “Because God blessed us with another girl.”

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