IT HAPPENED LIKE THIS

STORIES AND POEMS

Ten absurdist poems and very short stories, written by Kharms (1905_1942) in Russia. At their best, as in "A Mysterious Case," of a portrait taken down for dusting that suddenly becomes a picture of someone else when rehung (upside down), or "Let's Write a Story," in which Sonya keeps commandeering her writing partner Boris's opening lines, the humor will play to young readers, but most of the stories are either fragmentary and surrealistic ("The Four Legged Crow"), or pointedly symbolic, or both. Arnold pays homage to the post-Revolution era's cultural ferment, as well as its severe lack of art supplies, with spiky figures rendered in thick, scratchy black lines and thin but vigorously applied color on wallpaper, wrapping paper, and even a montage of Soviet police documents. This evocative tribute to a writer unfamiliar to most US children will find its readiest audience in adults interested in children's books. (Picture book. 8+)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-374-33635-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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ESPERANZA RISING

The author of Amelia and Eleanor Go for a Ride (1999) and Riding Freedom (1997) again approaches historical fiction, this time using her own grandmother as source material. In 1930, Esperanza lives a privileged life on a ranch in Aguascalientes, Mexico. But when her father dies, the post-Revolutionary culture and politics force her to leave with her mother for California. Now they are indebted to the family who previously worked for them, for securing them work on a farm in the San Joaquin valley. Esperanza balks at her new situation, but eventually becomes as accustomed to it as she was in her previous home, and comes to realize that she is still relatively privileged to be on a year-round farm with a strong community. She sees migrant workers forced from their jobs by families arriving from the Dust Bowl, and camps of strikers—many of them US citizens—deported in the “voluntary repatriation” that sent at least 450,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans back to Mexico in the early 1930s. Ryan’s narrative has an epic tone, characters that develop little and predictably, and a romantic patina that often undercuts the harshness of her story. But her style is engaging, her characters appealing, and her story is one that—though a deep-rooted part of the history of California, the Depression, and thus the nation—is little heard in children’s fiction. It bears telling to a wider audience. (author’s note) (Fiction. 9-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-439-12041-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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