THE JOURNAL OF SEAN SULLIVAN

A TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD WORKER

In the My Name Is America series, Durbin (Wintering, 1999, etc.) offers the story of Sean Sullivan, whose first day in Omaha, Nebraska, brings him face to face with a victim of an Indian attack; the man survived, but carries his bloody scalp in a bucket. It’s August 1897, and Sean has just arrived from Chicago, planning to work with his father on the Intercontinental Railroad. Pa, who carries terrible memories of his stint in the Civil War and of the death three years ago of Sean’s mother, is already a foreman for the railroad, but Sean must start at the bottom, as a water carrier, toting barrels of it to the thirsty men who are doing the back-breaking work on the line. At night, everyone is usually too tired to do anything but sleep, but Sundays are free, and Sean discovers the rough and rowdy world of the towns that seem to sprout up from nowhere along the railroad’s path over the prairie. Through Sean’s eyes, the history of this era and the magnitude of his and his fellow workers’ achievements come alive; Durbin has no trouble making Sean’s world palpable, and readers will slog along with Sean every step of the way on his long and arduous journey to building a railroad and becoming a man. (b&w maps, photos, reproductions) (Fiction. 8-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-439-04994-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1999

KEVIN AND HIS DAD

There is something profoundly elemental going on in Smalls’s book: the capturing of a moment of unmediated joy. It’s not melodramatic, but just a Saturday in which an African-American father and son immerse themselves in each other’s company when the woman of the house is away. Putting first things first, they tidy up the house, with an unheralded sense of purpose motivating their actions: “Then we clean, clean, clean the windows,/wipe, wipe, wash them right./My dad shines in the windows’ light.” When their work is done, they head for the park for some batting practice, then to the movies where the boy gets to choose between films. After a snack, they work their way homeward, racing each other, doing a dance step or two, then “Dad takes my hand and slows down./I understand, and we slow down./It’s a long, long walk./We have a quiet talk and smile.” Smalls treats the material without pretense, leaving it guileless and thus accessible to readers. Hays’s artwork is wistful and idyllic, just as this day is for one small boy. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-79899-1

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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