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ANY SMALL GOODNESS by Tony Johnston Kirkus Star


by Tony Johnston

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-439-18936-5
Publisher: Blue Sky/Scholastic

Sweet as Mexican dulces, here’s an episodic story about life in the Los Angeles barrio. Picture-book veteran Johnston (Uncle Rain Cloud, not reviewed, etc.) presents her first novel for children, and what a treat it is. Arturo’s close-knit family, who arrived from Mexico only three years ago, stands together against the ugliness of the world. “In L.A. there’s bad. Druggies. Gangs. Thieves, lifting stuff from houses like army ants.” But as Arturo’s father says, “In life there is bueno and there is malo. If you do not find enough of the good, you must yourself create it.” Vivid, poetic language liberally spiced with Spanish introduces a cast of supporting characters who all in their own ways work to create good, including Leo Love, who returns the family’s beloved cat when she gets lost; “Coach Tree,” an unidentified retired NBA player who becomes assistant coach to Arturo’s basketball team; and Ms. Cloud, the librarian who puts just the right books into the children’s hands. When a drive-by shooting threatens all that these people have done, Arturo takes it upon himself to create more good. His personal growth is marked in the opening and closing moments: at the first, he takes back his name from a teacher who tries to “gringo-ize” it; at the last, he works to take the barrio back from the chaos within it. Arturo’s narration is by turns wise, witty, and heart-breakingly innocent. Good spirit pervades this narrative, just like the aroma of Abuelita’s chiles rellenos. ¡Maravilloso! (glossary, not seen) (Fiction. 9-13)