cover image Down at Angel's

Down at Angel's

Sharon Chmielarz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $14.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-395-65993-9

In this bittersweet tale of hard times in a small Midwestern town, two sisters and a lonesome Bulgarian immigrant offer one another consolation. Despite his thick accent and scary ``milky'' eye, Angel's eccentricities attract the girls: his home (the cellar of the house he built for his wife, who left him), his artistic carpentry (especially a table with an inlaid star), his passion for opera (persistently playing on the radio). And he cements their friendship with his genuine kindness--asking, ``Do you help your mama now that your papa's passed on?'' as he offers much-prized chocolate bars. Chmielarz's ( The End of Winter ) prose is consistently ripe (sawdust from Angel's buzz saw ``showers over his blue cap and shoulders, flies like a sandstorm across the saw table, and lies ankle-deep on the floor'') . She incorporates subtle, telling details so smoothly and masterfully and with such controlled tension that the reader is disarmed by the text's easy, natural flow. Several open-ended moments invite contemplation but do not interrupt the story. Kastner ( I Want to Go Home ; Snake Hunt ) distills the mood aptly in her soft, subdued oil paintings. Her figures seem intimately familiar yet dignified, and her compositions are newly dynamic. With successive readings, this book's shine will deepen into a gratifying patina. Ages 4-7. (Aug.)