As her favorite sister heads off to Aunt Dottie’s farm, Frankie Baum expects her own summer of 1939 to be dull, but her father’s new restaurant creates an unexpected widening of her world.
Stout’s novel is steeped in the feel of life in a small city just as the rumblings of war in Europe begin to catch the attention of Americans. Frankie and her young cousins eagerly anticipate the late-summer arrival of The Wizard of Oz in Hagerstown’s theater. While Frankie resents being the youngest, third child, her candid, irrepressible nature keeps both humor and pathos in balance. Hermann Baum’s independent spirit—he refuses to be bullied into joining the chamber of commerce or to put a campaign poster for the chamber president’s mayoral race in his window—combines with his German name to result in a disheartening boycott of his restaurant’s opening celebration on the Fourth of July. Though most of the action takes place within Frankie’s point of view, occasions when the narrative shifts briefly to another character’s thoughts offer insight and suspense. Stout uses an archly chummy direct address at several points, successfully and humorously breaking up tension in this cleareyed look at bad behavior by society—where discrimination both hidden and overt is practiced against the town’s “colored” neighbors—and by individual scoundrels like power-hungry Mr. Price.
Successfully warmhearted and child-centered. (Historical fiction. 9-13)