cover image The Dancing Pancake

The Dancing Pancake

Eileen Spinelli, illus. by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Knopf, $12.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-375-85870-3

Spinelli (who collaborated with Lew-Vriethoff on Summerhouse Time) again effectively employs free verse in this series of poems told by 11-year-old Bindi, whose parents' recent separation has thrown her life into upheaval. With her father gone, money is tight, so her mother and aunt open a diner, the Dancing Pancake. Bindi runs the gamut of expected emotions—from pretended indifference through sorrow and anger to tentative joy at her parents' possible reunion—in a fresh, unadorned voice that is always believable and sympathetic: "I have to say,/ I'm starting to think/ maybe it will be/ fun, being in/ the restaurant business./ Did I say that?/ (Not out loud)." The short sentences and straightforward expression of often complex feelings make the book accessible to younger or reluctant readers. Spinelli's secondary characters are affectionately drawn, from Bindi's diverse school friends to the teenage waitress, shy foreign dishwasher, and diner guests, including a homeless woman whom Bindi befriends. Bindi's struggles are credible and moving; while nothing is easily resolved, readers will be more than content with the hopeful conclusion. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 8–12. (May)