Joan Sandin, Author . Holt $17.95 (45p) ISBN 978-0-8050-6558-9

Inspired in part by newsletters written by students at Arizona ranch country schools in the '30s and '40s, Sandin (The Long Way Westward) combines a first-person narration by a fourth-grader, Monchi Ramírez (whose family lives on the ranch built by his great-grandfather) with issues of the "Coyote News," his school's monthly newsletter. The book opens in 1938, when the silver dollar offered by the teacher for perfect attendance exercises a strong hold on Monchi's imagination. Sandin finds some colorful moments, both in Monchi's life with his five siblings on the ranch and in the tiny schoolhouse that he shares with 11 classmates, the sympathetic teacher and the teacher's dog. Perhaps the best nuggets are found in the "newspaper," which looks authentic in its purple "mimeographed" typeface and with its "student" drawings (after they listen to FDR on the radio, a third-grader writes: "When he said 'war' it sounded like 'waw.' We were all laughing because we never heard anybody who talked like that"). While half-page watercolors and vignettes break up long columns of text, the art is uneven and the layout seems both institutional and a bit intimidating—it sets out more information than the audience may be able to comfortably absorb. Patient readers may be rewarded, however, with an enhanced historical perspective, a feel for Mexican-American culture and the satisfaction of seeing even minor characters grow. Ages 6-10. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 07/28/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Children's
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