The author of The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (1988) writes of a boy's wish to be "right much of a man." Littlejim, 12, lives with his family in the mountains of Appalachia. Soldiers are off fighting the Kaiser, but Littlejim's concerns are more local: he seeks his father's approval. Bigjim, who prizes "manly" skills, calls his son "no-account" because he isn't handy with logging and other chores. The boy hopes to vindicate himself through an essay contest on "What It Means to Be an American," the winning entry to be published in a newspaper his father reveres. A violent event inspires Littlejim's essay, a device that seems gratuitous in context. The text's folksy, friendly tone sometimes shifts abruptly to a more formal style and is occasionally difficult to follow. A familiar idea, unredeemed by its presentation.