Like Berniece Rabe's latest (below), this features a pair of 1930s back country orphans--and makes the unmodulated most of their position. Nell and her brother Peckerwood (aka JD) live with an aunt and uncle because their father is dead and their mother's off working, and though the mother sends Uncle Jock money for their support, he overworks, underfeeds, and abuses the children viciously--won't even let his wife put eggs in their lunch biscuits as she does for her own two. But Nell loves school and reading, and when Ma is reported dead and Jock comes near to beating JD to death, the two children escape and hide out in the schoolhouse--later taking in their senile, hungry grandfather and his dog as well. The school is closed for the winter but the teacher, when he finds them there, moves right in--and the rest is sheer daydream, with kind Mr. Davis giving JD and an adoring Nell daily lessons as well as food, clothes, and support. Branscum has them all getting a mite antsy and Nell somewhat disenchanted before their snowbound idyll ends, but the finale is even happier with Ma showing up for the kids and later (in a p.s.) marrying Mr. Davis. Branscum's writing is perky as usual, and though this isn't one of her stronger stories by a long shot, a spunky kid like Nell fighting such mistreatment and living such a dream has surefire appeal.