PREACHER'S BOY

Paterson (Celia and the Sweet, Sweet Water, 1998, etc.) rings out the 20th century with this ruminative tale of a 10-year-old freethinker, set in a small Vermont town at the very end of the 19th century. Hearing a revivalist preacher’s dark hints of impending doom, Robbie decides to become “a heathen, a Unitarian, or a Democrat, whichever was most fun,” because he “ain’t got the knack for holiness.” As it turns out, he’s not very good at sinning either, bending a few commandments by stealing food for a pair of vagrants, Violet and her abusive, alcoholic pa, Zeb, and feeling a stab of envy over the love his parents lavish on his simple-minded older brother, Elliot. He has a brush with serious evil, nearly drowning a rival who throws his clothes into a pond; the experience leaves him profoundly shocked at himself, and he ultimately earns redemption, in his own eyes, by saving Zeb from a charge of attempted murder. Despite some violence, the tone is generally light; if some situations are contrived, more thoughtful readers will look beyond them to the larger moral questions underlying Robbie’s attitudes and choices. Talky, but nourishing for mind and spirit both. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 1999

ISBN: 0-395-83897-5

Page Count: 165

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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