Luminous oil paintings carry the day for this thoughtfully conceived but unevenly executed story. Bunting's tale of two realities-houses under construction and the Civil War battlefield on which the new community lies-revolves around two boys, neighbors and friends, one black and one white. The action alternates between the present day and 1862 as one of the boys' fathers describes the long-ago battle, peeling back the layers of time to reveal the history that lies beneath the boys' feet. Bunting's (Smoky Night) verse shows glimmers of the lyricism of which she is capable (""The barrels of their muskets/ hard and black/ gave back/ the dazzle of the sun""), but it is marred by occasionally awkward phrasing (""The little puffs of smoke/ burst like gray dust/ around the barrel of each rifle gun,/ floated behind them as they'd run/ man after man""). The interracial theme seems a bit contrived, at times even self-congratulatory (""We'll be a monument of sorts,"" the father says, ""a part of what they fought for/ long ago""). Meanwhile, Bittinger's (The Matzah That Papa Brought Home) artwork shines, capturing every nuance, whether picturing sweeping scenes of battle or the easy camaraderie between the two young friends. His evocation of the brutality and drama of war is all the more touching, standing out as it does in sharp relief against the sunny, tranquil contemporary scenes. Ages 5-7. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/04/1996 Release date: 11/01/1996 Genre: Children's
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