TOUGH CHOICES

A STORY OF THE VIETNAM WAR

A less successful entry in the Once Upon America series, partly because the causes and domestic consequences of the Vietnam War were so complicated that it's difficult to make them comprehensible to an elementary-school audience. Marine Corporal Mitch Morgan, returning from a year's tour in Vietnam, encounters anti-war protesters that include his own teenage brother. (Younger sister Samantha, who narrates, is trying to make up her own mind about the war.) When Mitch learns that his best friend has been killed in action, he signs up for another tour, hoping he can teach new ``grunts'' how to stay alive. Readers will need to know more about the war's political background and the reasons for the sometimes-violent protests against it than they will be able to glean from the expository dialogue here. Tighter editing (do we need to know how the family was seated to watch TV?) and less extraneous period detail might have helped. Illustrations not seen. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-670-84879-4

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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HOW TÍA LOLA CAME TO (VISIT) STAY

From the Tía Lola Stories series , Vol. 1

Renowned Latin American writer Alvarez has created another story about cultural identity, but this time the primary character is 11-year-old Miguel Guzmán. When Tía Lola arrives to help the family, Miguel and his hermana, Juanita, have just moved from New York City to Vermont with their recently divorced mother. The last thing Miguel wants, as he's trying to fit into a predominantly white community, is a flamboyant aunt who doesn't speak a word of English. Tía Lola, however, knows a language that defies words; she quickly charms and befriends all the neighbors. She can also cook exotic food, dance (anywhere, anytime), plan fun parties, and tell enchanting stories. Eventually, Tía Lola and the children swap English and Spanish ejercicios, but the true lesson is "mutual understanding." Peppered with Spanish words and phrases, Alvarez makes the reader as much a part of the "language" lessons as the characters. This story seamlessly weaves two culturas while letting each remain intact, just as Miguel is learning to do with his own life. Like all good stories, this one incorporates a lesson just subtle enough that readers will forget they're being taught, but in the end will understand themselves, and others, a little better, regardless of la lengua nativa—the mother tongue. Simple, bella, un regalo permenente: simple and beautiful, a gift that will stay. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-80215-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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THE COLOR OF MY WORDS

This standout novella lustrously portrays Ana Rosa and the rich simplicity of her family’s daily life in the Dominican Republic. The linked vignettes and elegant prose vitalize the merengue music, colorful houses, as well as the people’s poverty and the tyranny of the government. Each chapter begins with one of Ana Rosa’s lovely rhythmic verses. A poet and writer at age 12, she steals bits of paper to record everything she sees, hears, and imagines. Ana Rosa’s family is very close by necessity, but it is her beloved brother Guario who has the job that supports them. As the novella proceeds, dark shadows begin to slink through the gentle days. We learn that Ana Rosa’s father drinks too much rum and Coke, especially on Sundays, when he becomes a lurching spectacle. Then an official informs the villagers that to build a hotel, the government has sold the land on which their families have lived for generations. The villagers band together, Ana Rosa writes an article, and her brother Guario becomes their passionate leader. But when the day of the standoff arrives, the villager’s words and rocks are nothing against the guardia’s guns and bulldozers. The heartbreaking result is Guario’s death. Without diluting the sorrow, Joseph (Fly, Bessie, Fly, 1998, etc.) illustrates the good arising from the tragedy as the government cancels the hotel project and Ana Rosa begins writing the life of her brother. This is an achingly beautiful story that will awaken profound emotions in the reader. (author’s note) (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-028232-0

Page Count: 144

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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