Jane Denitz Smith, Author . HarperCollins $15.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-029279-9

Smith's (Charlie Is a Chicken; Mary by Myself) engaging novel centers on Ruthie, a likable fourth grader whose father hires 16-year-old Alice to watch her after school while her mother takes an extended business trip. The exotic teen instantly captivates Ruthie; Alice sprinkles sequins in her white-blonde hair, wears a purple velvet cape and "seemed like a magical creature, someone spun from sugar and then plucked from the air." Even more enticing is her sitter's belief in fairies and the magical power of her imaginary "Fairy Dust." The two create a miniature house in the woods for fairies, whom Alice promises will soon arrive to take up residence. But Alice's fairy fantasies begin to create ominous reverberations: she urges Ruthie to take money from the jar of cash her father keeps on his night table to buy something for the fairies and filches a box of holiday decorations from a store, assuring Ruthie that this is not stealing, since she had first sprinkled it with Fairy Dust. It becomes increasingly evident that the troubled teen is heading for a fall, and few readers will be surprised when she and Ruthie, a reluctant accomplice, get caught shoplifting (the guard lets them off with a warning). Though Alice's fate is left dangling and the story's pace stalls in spots, the scales fall from Ruthie's eyes. Smith raises worthwhile questions about listening to one's conscience and shapes credible characters apt to appeal to middle-grade girls. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Children's
Hardcover - 152 pages - 978-0-06-029280-5
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