Children face moral dilemmas in these stories for middle-school readers.
In this collection, Tolles (Ben’s Big Year, 2012, etc.) reprints stories that first appeared in publications such as Cricket magazine and the Los Angeles Times’ Kids’ Reading Room page. She arranges these very short tales into three sections: “Far Away Times and Places,” which includes stories set in India, the American West and other locales; and “About Boys” and “About Girls,” which feature male and female protagonists, respectively. Each story contains a lesson or moral; for example, “Bear Watch” concerns a northern Indian girl who realizes that she must climb a platform and make noise to protect her family’s cornfield from bears—in the middle of the night, all by herself. In the end, she discovers the joy and pride of success. In “Who Will Be Emperor: A Chinese Legend,” a boy is richly rewarded for telling the truth, even though he fears being exposed as a failure. The 5-year-old girl in “Swim Meet” learns that keeping at a task is more important than winning, and it will still get you a ribbon. Tolles is a prolific writer of children’s books, and her stories are simple, vivid and affectionate. They can sometimes seem pat, however, as children who struggle to do the right thing are always recompensed in short order. In “Barn Dance,” for example, a teenage girl with a leg brace braves her fears, hoping her long dress will hide the brace; it doesn’t, but the nice boy from the dance calls her anyway. Although there’s a good message in not allowing physical challenges to prevent participation, such easy answers and guaranteed rewards don’t always happen in real life. The stories’ teenagers also seem to come from an earlier era; in “Girl Runner,” for example, Tolles explains that “[c]oed sports had come to southern California this year.” Title IX, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in school athletic activities, was signed into law more than 40 years ago; it’s also very strange that a girl in today’s athletic culture wouldn’t want a potential boyfriend to know she’s on the track team. Occasional punctuation errors also detract.
A vivid, well-meaning collection, but one that offers too-easy resolutions.