Throwing shadows, kindling flames: each of the five innocuous short stories included here ends in a sort of character-defining gesture or understanding. In the first Ned, a young shark-tooth collector in Florida, hands over a prize find to an envious, pesty old man. Another boy's mother exhibits similar generosity toward an antique-dealer couple who got her started in the business but resent her superior talent for it. In an old people's home, young Phillip tapes a crusty Hungarian lady's life story, then does both her and the other inmates a good turn by arranging for her to tape the others for the institution's library--but their universal eagerness is simplistically overdone; and when Phillip is tacitly rebuked by one old lady's blue tattoo from Auschwitz, the reference seems merely inappropriate, the story too bland to justify its use. Avery, who complains of being a "catchee"--police keep stopping him for what only seems like thievery or whatever--is reassured by his older brother that the experience will make him "very honest and very brave." And a young Ecuadorean tour guide helps a hustling village boy to learn that the voice of true manhood need not be loud. In the first two stories the shark-tooth collector's mother is said to be from Thailand, though she sounds American if anything, and the "catchee" refers once to his black skin, though his tone again is just homogenized American--so why? All the stories are more rounded and sprinkled with anecdote than what is usually called didactic in children's fiction, yet all the characters--and their stories--are so reduced to those final moments of truth or virtue shining forth that the experience is a mild and managed one.