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BELLE TEAL by Ann M. Martin


by Ann M. Martin

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-439-09823-8
Publisher: Scholastic

A young white girl witnesses the integration of her public school in the early 1960s South. Belle Teal and her best friend Clarice have been looking forward to the fifth grade for years, ever since the lovely and kind Miss Casey began teaching it. This year is remarkable not only for Miss Casey, however, but for the arrival of Darryl and two other African-American students, the first the school has ever seen. Belle Teal, a spunky, generous girl who copes at home with a loving but feckless mother and a beloved but increasingly senile grandmother, finds herself caught in the middle of the integration conflict, as she must balance her old friendship with the bigoted Little Boss against her new friendship with Darryl. Belle Teal’s first-person voice is pleasing and genuine, and period details are well rendered (Clarice’s family’s TV helps to locate the text in time, drawing a connection over 40 years from Belle Teal to 21st-century child readers). And although there is a lot going on here, what with Little Boss’s family tensions, the snooty newcomer Vanessa (whom Belle Teal refers to as “HRH”), and Belle Teal’s anxiety over the changes in her grandmother’s capabilities in addition to the central integration plot, Martin (The Doll People, 2000, etc.) does a creditable job of keeping all the narrative balls in the air. While readers might question the conveniently enlightened racial attitudes of both Belle Teal’s and Clarice’s families and the ease with which the girls begin a friendship with the besieged Darryl, this good-hearted and well-paced story moves them past these concerns into a genuinely moving tale about the necessity to reach out to others, even when it is difficult. (Fiction. 8-12)