cover image Pennywhistle Tree

Pennywhistle Tree

Doris Buchanan Smith. Putnam Publishing Group, $14.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-399-21840-8

Sixth-grader Jonathon and his pals Alex, Benjy and Craig are dismayed when their neighborhood is invaded by seven ragged, noisy children--the new occupants of the previously vacant corner house. The oldest and brashest of the lot, Sanders George, elicits growing animosity from most of the neighbors, but Jonathon has mixed feelings about the new boy who shares his passion for music and has, like Jonathon, experienced the grief of losing a younger sibling. It is only in the end, minutes before the George family moves on to another town, that Jonathon acts out his compassion for the boy who has been deprived of many things that most children take for granted. Smith's ( Voyages ; Return to Bitter Creek ) story will doubtless touch readers, yet its poignancy is weakened by stiff dialogue and uneven characterizations. The neighborhood boys' shifting levels of maturity are confusing, while Sanders, whose sensitivity, protective nature and desperation to find a friend are obvious from the beginning, is miscast as a bully. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)