Kirkus Star


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Ain't no time out, sucker,"" crowed Tyrone Howard, the tough black city kid, to his Amish farmboy host. But to the Amish, ""Time is a matter of opinion."" Their lives, like their clocks, are not run by the electricity of modern culture. City Children, Country Summer is Lawrence Wright's delightful, almost novelistic, account of the visit of a dozen poor black and Hispanic children from New York who have been sent to a secluded Amish community in Pennsylvania by the Fresh Air Fund. Ironically, the ""Fresh Airs,"" who are considered economically deprived in their own environment, are materially rich by comparison with the primitive style of life of the Amish and Mennonites; they have more of the goods of modern life such as TV, radio, stylish clothing, and worldly experiences. Yet this only underscores the depth of the deprivation caused by their insecurity at home, in school, and on the streets. In New York, ""where the culture tends to pull families apart,"" the children develop their individual style and imagination in order to have an identity. In Big Valley, on the other hand, ""where families are clamped together in a vise of religion and tradition,"" identity can be taken for granted. But the farm children are fascinated by the powers of make-believe which the city kids have, just as their guests envy the firm family roles of the Amish. And so, many of the children swap shoes and dresses, names and fears. They share, they compete, and they learn; and through the specific experiences of the children and their families, Wright reveals much of the educational, religious, and familial structures which make up their respective societies. There are the expected surprises: the city girl who finds out that hamburger comes from cows, and the Amish boy who discovers comic books. But there are unexpected surprises as well, when we see how vulnerable the tough are and how savvy the innocent can be. This book is accessible to children and important for adults because it captures (without being didactic or clich‚d) how cultures collide and how they can be shared.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1979
Publisher: Scribners