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Books Recommended For Kids

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PEELING THE ONION, by Wendy Orr. (Holiday House, $15.95; young adult.) Anna is flying high. She is 17, attractive and bright, and driving home with her new boyfriend, Hayden, after winning a karate championship. But in the next moment, Anna's life changes forever when another car slams into theirs, leaving her with multiple injuries. To friends and family, she seems to be coping with the trauma of her cut face and badly damaged body. Inwardly, though, she seethes and rages--at God for allowing the accident to happen, at a friend for deserting her, and at Hayden, who is afraid to touch her. Most of all, she is devastated by the pain. "Nobody tells you that real pain is more than something in your body, it's a black vortex that engulfs your mind, leaving you wondering if there's a border between life and death and what side you're on." Peeling the Onion can be compared to the popular Izzy, Willy Nilly, by Cynthia Voigt. The central characters in both are similar in age and deal with severe injuries caused by car accidents. But there is an important difference. Izzy, though bitter about the drunk driver who hit her and the loss of her leg, eventually comes to terms with her injury and leads an active, almost normal, life. But for Anna, months of therapy fail to ease her pain, and she finds she cannot concentrate. Worst of all, a specialist has misdiagnosed her neck injury, and she learns she will be permanently impaired. Anna is a better-developed character than Izzy, fiercely rejecting pity and meeting every setback head-on. Her inner thoughts reveal her agonizing struggle to determine who she is and what she will become. She is strong and determined and manages flashes of humor at the most unexpected moments. And she is surrounded by a supportive and loving family and a funny and fiercely loyal best friend. Her boyfriend, however, is unable to come to terms with the accident. All Orr's characters, with their frailties and well-meaning attempts to help Anna in her struggle to survive, are beautifully drawn. The Australian setting and expressions add an interesting touch to an exceptional novel.

--Barbara Hiron

KELE'S SECRET, by Tololwa M. Mollel, with illustrations by Catherine Stock. (Lodestar Books, $14.99; grades K-2.) Yoanes' grandmother, Koko, has given him the job of gathering eggs around their East African farm. Not an easy task since the hens seem to lay everywhere: in Grandfather Akwi's loft, the cow barn, the outhouse, the tall bamboo. Koko tells Yoanes that when he has filled her large checkered bowl, the two of them will take the eggs to the local market to sell. Yoanes loves going to market, so he begins stalking an unusual spotted hen named Kele that is laying eggs in secret. Kele leads Yoanes into the house, through the tall grass, and finally out into Akwi's coffee grove and a scary shed built of dried banana leaves. Yoanes, who narrates the story, stares uneasily into the cavelike shed. "I wasn't afraid to clamber into Akwi's dark, cluttered loft. I wasn't afraid of the gloomy cow barn. I wasn't afraid of the spidery corners of the outhouse," he tells the reader. "But I had never gone into the creepy shed alone." This, of course, is where Kele has been laying her eggs, as Yoanes discovers when he finally musters the courage to enter. With the help of his grandfather's big, floppy hat, the boy gathers the eggs and takes them to his grandmother, and the two head off to market. It's a charming, simply told story, illustrated in exacting detail by Stock's watercolors. But the real strength of the book is the portrait it provides--both through text and illustrations--of East African farm life. As we follow Yoanes on his search for eggs, we see how people live, the colorful clothing they wear, the vegetation that surrounds them. Mollel knows what he is writing about. Although he lives in Canada, he grew up with his grandparents on a coffee farm in Tanzania. With this gentle tale from his childhood, Mollel transports us into that world.

--Blake Rodman

Noteworthy

DEN OF THE WHITE FOX, by Lensey Namioka. (Harcourt Brace, $6; grades 6 and up.) In 16th-century feudal Japan, two traveling samurai warriors join a simmering rebellion against an army occupying a remote valley and become entangled with a shadowy figure known as the White Fox. Fast-paced with an exotic setting, this book will appeal to martial arts enthusiasts and adventure lovers alike.

DINOSAUR DINNER (WITH A SLICE OF ALLIGATOR PIE): Favorite Poems, by Dennis Lee, with illustrations by Debbie Tilley. (Knopf, $17; grades K-3.) A delicious collection of more than 40 rambunctious, outrageous, and hilarious poems, great read-alouds to be savored over and over again. Subjects near and dear to children--bellybuttons, underwear, ice cream, and mud puddles--get the special Lee treatment. Zany watercolors add to the fun.

OLD IRONSIDES: Americans Build a Fighting Ship, by David Weitzman. (Houghton Mifflin, $15.95; grades 4-7.) A fictional account of the building of the USS Constitution as seen through the eyes of John, a young helper in the Boston shipyard. He takes the reader step-by-step through the construction to the launching of the historic frigate. Clear, crisp black-and-white drawings by the author enhance the lively and engaging text. This is a timely and elegant book to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a memorable ship.

TALES FROM THE HOMEPLACE: Adventures of a Texas Farm Girl, by Harriet Burandt and Shelley Dale. (Henry Holt, $14.95; grades 4-6.) Based on real-life events, this collection of nine stories chronicles the exploits of 12-year-old Irene, whose large, close-knit family lives on a Texas cotton farm during the Depression. With ingenuity and grit, Irene faces such adversaries as a stalking panther, an unruly race horse, and an ornery cousin. The experiences of this spunky, young heroine yield a realistic portrait of Depression-era farm life.

STRANDED IN HARMONY, by Barbara Shoup. (Hyperion, $17.95; young adult.) Lucas seems to have a golden life: He is captain of his high school football team, his girlfriend is a pretty cheerleader, and he has even been offered a football scholarship. But he is restless and unhappy, frustrated with his small-town existence and uncertain about his feelings and future. When an older woman enters his life, she helps him confront his demons by revealing a shocking secret from her past. An unusual coming-of-age novel with intriguing flashbacks to the '60s, an energetic plot, and an author with a good ear for teen dialogue.

THE ROLLING STORE, by Angela Johnson, with illustrations by Peter Catalanotto. (Orchard, $15.95; grades K-2.) As two girls pick flowers, string beads, and bake cookies, one tells the other a story about when her grandfather "was little and the world was young" and the "rolling store" would come to his backwoods community. The store, a truck loaded with all kinds of goods and goodies, would draw people from the surrounding countryside. The soft watercolor illustrations cut back and forth between the girls and the story and eventually reveal that the girls are preparing their own rolling store--a wagon full of things they've made--for the neighborhood.

--Barbara Hiron and Blake Rodman

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