Gwenyth Swain, . . Delacorte, $14.95 (199pp) ISBN 978-0-385-73065-5

Swain (The Road to Seneca Falls ) sets her appealing first novel "way down deep in the hills and hollers of southern Indiana" during the Depression. In the fall of 1933, Chig—named by her father, who declared that his tiny child wasn't "any bigger than a little red chigger"—finally starts school at the age of eight after her parents realize that their diminutive daughter isn't likely to grow any bigger. Despite the taunts from older boys (they call her the "runt of the litter"), Chig adjusts to school with the help of her supportive teacher and a kind schoolmate. With the folksy narrative filled with period particulars, these school passages, as well as numerous scenarios depicting Chig's relationships with members of her likable family, convincingly convey this winning heroine. Yet the tale loses its punch as it treads on less credible turf. Chig notices that her schoolmates' lunch sandwiches are "decidedly slim on spreads" and writes a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt proposing a plan that will create jobs for her town—and enable residents to afford more substantial meals. The girl's larger-than-life aspirations continue as she masterminds a successful last-ditch effort to prevent a train derailment (yet the wreckage of one car carrying tinned food supplies the town with abundant second spreads for sandwiches). Despite a few tall-tale traits, the novel's strong characters and the engaging banter between them should keep kids entertained. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)