OLD HOME DAY

Hall (When Willard Met Babe Ruth, p. 374, etc.) traces the history of Blackwater Pond, a small New England settlement, from its geological formation to a vision of its bicentennial celebration in August 1999. The town swells with farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries; by the beginning of the 20th century, people are moving out. In 1899, New Hampshire's governor creates Old Home Day (or Old Home Week, as explained in the afterword), a holiday meant to bring people back for a visit. Hall's lyrical book is a thorough history of the waxing, waning, and potential rebirth of America's small towns, and while adults may treasure it for nostalgic reasons, children may find it slow and, in some places, confusing. Family names are mentioned without enough details to make the lineages stick; what should be poetry reads more like genealogical records. Some events need factual moorings, e.g., the Civil War is never named, only referred to poetically: ``When Johnny Reb fired on Fort Sumter . . . '' is a clue not all readers will grasp. The ten thousand years between the ``first people'' and trappers sending pelts to London and Paris are simply noted as ``later.'' McCully's watercolors make time's passing more tangible. In the end, however, this book and all its many charms are better suited to older readers. (Picture book. 9+)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-276896-3

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay.

HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) STAY

From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. 

When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturaswhile letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue.

Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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