SHADOW-CATCHER

Jonathan’s the youngest in his Maine farm family, full of notions gathered from his reading of dime novels about adventure and about city life. But when his grandfather, the itinerant photographer, decides to take him along on his summer rounds, Jonathan’s not at all sure of his desires. Grandpa is a Civil War veteran, taciturn and sometimes cold, who holds his thoughts and his secrets deep within himself. So when Jonathan watches Grandpa as he photographs an astonishing scene of logging over whitewater rapids, the images Jonathan carries—of a floating roof and a frantic man in a checkered shirt—might not be the ones in the photograph. Arriving in a town called Masham, Jonathan is astonished to learn that his grandfather has a photography gallery and Annie, the spirited daughter of the woman who runs it, calls Grandpa “Uncle Rodney.” Grandpa keeps putting off developing the pictures, even though a local man seems very interested in seeing them. The mystery of what the pictures reveal is at the heart of a resolution, which means new lives for both Grandpa and Jonathan. The story is rich in detailing how photographs were made in the 1890s, and how folks would queue up at fairs and job sites to have their pictures taken. The joys of reading—from Dickens to dime novels—and the ungentle treatment of both Native Americans and people of mixed blood like Annie loop deftly into the plot. Intriguing and satisfying to the end. (Fiction. 10+)

Pub Date: May 30, 2000

ISBN: 0-688-17862-6

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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THE CLAY MARBLE

Drawing on her experience with a relief organization on the Thai border, Ho tells the story of a Cambodian family, fleeing the rival factions of the 80's while hoping to gather resources to return to farming in their homeland. Narrator Dara, 12, and the remnants of her family have arrived at a refugee camp soon after her father's summary execution. At first, the camp is a haven: food is plentiful, seed rice is available, and they form a bond with another family- -brother Sarun falls in love with Nea, and Dara makes friends with Nea's cousin, Jantu, who contrives marvelous toys from mud and bits of scrap; made wise by adversity, Jantu understands that the process of creation outweighs the value of things, and that dead loved ones may live on in memory. The respite is brief: Vietnamese bombing disrupts the camp, and the family is temporarily but terrifyingly separated. Later, Jantu is wounded by friendly fire and doesn't survive; but her tragic death empowers Dara to confront Sarun, who's caught up in mindless militarism instigated by a charismatic leader, and persuade him to travel home with the others—to plant rice and build a family instead of waging war. Again, Ho (Rice Without Rain, 1990) skillfully shapes her story to dramatize political and humanitarian issues. The easily swayed Sarun lacks dimension, but the girls are more subtly drawn—Dara's growing courage and assertiveness are especially convincing and admirable. Touching, authentic, carefully wrought- -and with an unusually appealing jacket. (Fiction. 11-15)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-374-31340-7

Page Count: 163

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1991

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