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Children's Books

Culture

Issue: "Walking the tightrope," Feb. 10, 2001
1
A Year Down Yonder
Richard Peck
PLOT
It's 1937 and 15-year-old Mary Alice's father is out of work, so she must leave Chicago to live with her grandmother for a year or more.

GIST
Everyone is afraid of Grandma Dowdel, including her grand-daughter. As Mary Alice watches her grandmother's shenanigans, she learns that a kind heart beats under Grandma's gruff exterior. From one chapter to the next, Grandma rights wrongs-and teaches Mary Alice some of her tricks-in this warm, funny look at small-town life.

MESSAGE
Judeo-Christian.

2
Because of Winn-Dixie
Kate DiCamillo
PLOT
India Opal and her father, the Preacher, move to Naomi, Fla. It's summer and the 10-year-old doesn't know anyone until the mutt, Winn-Dixie, enters her life.

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GIST
Winn-Dixie, named after the grocery where Opal finds him, is a life saver. With the dog's help Opal makes friends with all sorts of odd characters, including the librarian Miss Franny, whose great-grandfather invented a candy that tastes like life: "sweet and sad at the same time." Reads like a kid's version of the Mitford stories.

MESSAGE
Judeo-Christian.

3
Hope Was Here
Joan Bauer
PLOT
16-year-old Hope is a great waitress who is not thrilled to be uprooted from Brooklyn and moved to a small town in Wisconsin.

GIST
In a rural Wisconsin town the mayor is a bad guy, and it takes G.T. Stoop, a diner owner recently diagnosed with leukemia, to take him on. Aunt Addie and Hope come to run the diner, but they get pulled into politics in this bittersweet novel pitting good versus evil. (The politics are predictable: The bad guy is the businessman and the good guys want to spend more money on day care.)

MESSAGE
Moralism.

4
Joey Pigza Loses Control
Jack Gantos
PLOT
Joey has ADHD, but he has new meds to control it. He convinces his mom to let him spend part of the summer with his estranged dad-who is a grown up version of Joey.

GIST
Meds are good. When Joey has his patch his life becomes focused, and he can function. But when his dad tells him he doesn't need the medicine and flushes it down the toilet, Joey begins to fall apart. Meanwhile, his father, who had stopped drinking cold turkey, begins to drink again. A frantic story that's supposed to be funny but isn't.

MESSAGE
Materialism.

5
The Wanderer
Sharon Creech
PLOT
13-year-old Sophie begs to go with her three uncles and two male cousins on a sailing adventure across the Atlantic to see her grandfather, Bompie.

GIST
The book begins as a straightforward adventure tale as Sophie and her cousins, Cody and Brian, and her uncles prepare and set off on their Atlantic crossing. Both Sophie and Cody keep journals, and through the alternating entries, it becomes clear that there's a mystery associated with Sophie, which is revealed bit by bit. It's a voyage of discovery for the others as well.

MESSAGE
Naturalism.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The Newbery Medal is the best known award for children's books, but the National Book Award is also given for Young People's Literature. Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian was one of the finalists for the year 2000 award. Set in Armenia in 1915, the novel takes its young protagonist from his privileged world, which he can't imagine ever changing, and moves him through the hellish nightmare of the Armenian Holocaust, an almost forgotten event in a long litany of 20th-century horrors. One after another, Vahan's relatives are killed. His Armenian neighborhood is taken over by Turkish butchers, and he has to confront the reality of evil. For all its horror, the book ends on a note of hope: A wise man tells Vahan, "'Time takes everything, Vahan. But your heart, your character, your faith, do not belong to time. So build your home here,' he said, touching his chest. 'And make that home strong, make that home beautiful. Then you will always be safe, and you will never be alone.'" This book is not for young children. Its violence is sometimes graphic, but older teens will find a sensitive portrayal of a gruesome chapter in world history.

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