cover image Littlejim


Gloria Houston. Philomel Books, $14.95 (172pp) ISBN 978-0-399-22220-7

Based on the author's family history, this novel set in rural North Carolina during the early 1900s traces a 12-year-old boy's struggle to prove his worth. As a top scholar and excellent writer, Littlejim Houston is admired in his small community by everyone except his rugged, practical-minded father. Littlejim hopes to gain Bigjim's respect by winning a local writing contest. But the assigned topic, ``What it means to be an American,'' remains problematic until Littlejim receives inspiration from an Irish-born friend who works at Uncle Bob's sawmill. Although the protagonist's final triumphs are fairly predictable and themes of patriotism are perhaps overdrawn, the unfolding of the story's events is suspenseful and engaging. Through clear, unembellished prose, Houston ( The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree ) describes day-to-day life on a farm, reveals Littlejim's growth toward manhood and conveys the love that lies beneath his father's gruff exterior. This book succeeds in capturing the spirit of immigrant Americans who overcame obstacles to accomplish their dreams. Ages 8-12. (Nov.)