With its heartland setting, simile-laden prose and uplifting message about weathering hard times, Raven's debut book has much in common with a country-western song. The narrator, Annie, flashes back to her girlhood in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the '30s, when dust storms and drought devastated the land. Annie uses the dust-covered surfaces as a kind of chalkboard to teach her younger sister how to read; their mother smiles and says, ""You make me think nothing's so bad that it isn't good for something."" Annie hangs on to her mother's words after tragedy hits harder: the mother dies of ""dust pneumonia""; the crops fail; the house burns down. But neighbors band together to give Annie's family money for new shelter, and Annie never loses her optimism and pluck. Essley (Reunion) blends dramatic landscapes of ominous dust clouds and cracked earth with affecting, closely focused renderings of the characters. His pastels of valiant Annie squaring her shoulders reinforce the text's consciously inspirational message that adversity can always be overcome. Ages 5-8. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996 Release date: 01/01/1997 Genre: Children's
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