THE GIRL WITH THE BROWN CRAYON

A beautifully realized, deceptively simple classroom memoir from a longtime kindergarten teacher and author (Boys and Girls, 1984, etc.). Paley begins the narrative of her final year of teaching by focusing on Reeny, a self-assured, thoughtful, and creative black five-year-old girl in a class that's mostly Caucasian and Asian. Reeny is a wonderful character, but it is her identification with another character, Frederick the mouse in a Leo Lionni children's book, that is the catalyst for a truly remarkable classroom experience. Reeny becomes entranced with both Frederick and Lionni, seeing her own need to express herself reflected in the story of Frederick, the poet mouse. Because of her infectious enthusiasm, and Paley's own strong identification with another Lionni character, Tico, the bird with the golden wings, Paley decides to embark on a yearlong Lionni project. The class reads all of his books, discusses them, acts them out, and does art projects centered on them. Disproving the general opinion that kindergartners are unable to focus on a lengthy, ongoing project, these children show an amazing aptitude for referring back to previous discussions, understanding metaphor, relating their reading to the world around them, and using the information they glean in creative and unusual ways. Their discussions cover everything from race and friendship to gender and the artistic personality, and they are able to appreciate the Lionni titles with a maturity that is sometimes startling. Reeny leads the pack in this, especially in her astute reading of Paley herself and Paley's ambivalent identification with Tico, who is despised by his friends because of his golden wings. The reader closes the book with the hope that Paley will, with Reeny's help and her own newfound self-awareness, overcome her ambivalence about standing out and continue to write superb books like this one.

Pub Date: March 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-674-35439-7

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1997

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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