Mrs. Caudill has the tender touch in her stories about Appalachia. (A Certain Small Shepherd was the last.) Her characters are poor but exist without self-pity, uneducated but not unintelligent. Take Charley, for instance. His curiosity is insatiable, his imagination is boundless and his humor contagious. It's his first crack at school and it seems as if, from the first day, all the teachers know that they've got to keep a sharp eye on Charley, he's always next to the desk. Every night his family asks him if he got to carry the flag and every day some disaster overtook Charley before that symbol of excellence in behavior could be assigned to him. Children will recognize Charley's talent for trouble; there's a Charley in everybody's class. The theme, subtle and most effective, is the importance of learning to read and the pleasure of books. It hasn't been done better at this level.