In a ""first novel for young readers"" by a retired teacher, two sixth-grade boys make friends under dramatic circumstances in a small southern town. Seen from black Croaker's point of view but narrated in the third-person in more formal English, the book has strengths but is also fraught with problems. Ezekiel Silverstein is introduced without a word of explanation to his new classmates; Croaker is antagonized by his belligerent manner and a note he writes: ""Drop dead, Fuzzy Wuzzy,"" and retaliates--only to be told belatedly by the otherwise sensible teacher that Zeke has been mute since surviving a plane crash in which his parents died. Sent to apologize, Croaker makes friends, as do his dog and Zeke's talking crow. Melodramatic climactic events occur when two unpresaged bullies (one black, one white) attack, are bettered, and retaliate by shooting at the crow, precipitating a series of rescues on a water tower and a successful healing by ""Crazy Ole Miss Sophie,"" who is believed to be a witch by the more credulous black children. Hopkins' lively plotting and her sharp grasp of witty detail, plus the moving, believable friendship between the boys, should win this an audience. But she has not mastered the use of dialect in conversations, and Croaker's self-denigration is disturbing: overtly, it is linked to his nickname (he has a deep voice, like a frog) and the discovery that Zeke is brighter than he is; but there is a hint of condescension from the author.