Colorful idiom characterizes this witty Western adventure, narrated by an amiable but bumbling sheriff. When ""the ittiest, bittiest orphan, little Sweetness"" runs away from the local orphanage and its cruel headmistress, the sheriff follows her into the desert. ""I was gonna bring that orphan back if it harelipped the governor!"" he vows, worried that Sweetness will fall prey to a scorpion, a snake or the outlaw Coyote Pete. Ironically, the sheriff turns out to be the vulnerable one, and Sweetness rescues him three times, with water from her canteen, a snack of toasted marshmallows and a well-placed rock to Coyote Pete's head-all the while dropping hints about adoption. Stanley (Woe Is Moe; Leonardo da Vinci) guarantees a cowpokey twang by droppin' g's and spellin' phonetically, and she milks the narrator's thick-headedness for all its comic worth (""How many times has I gotta save you?"" he scolds after Sweetness comes to his aid). Karas (Mr. Carey's Garden; Home on the Bayou) sets the scene with charcoaly pencil illustrations; a palette of pale yellow, sandy brown and cactus green; and tinted cyanotype photos of desert scenery and old-fashioned buildings. Sweetness really is, as the sheriff observes, ""cute as a speckled pup under a wagon,"" and her mustachioed father-to-be has his own goofy charm. Their story is sweet, and worth saving. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996 Release date: 10/01/1996 Genre: Children's
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