cover image BELLE TEAL


Ann Matthews Martin, . . Scholastic, $15.95 (214pp) ISBN 978-0-439-09823-6

In this honest and moving novel, Martin (the Baby-Sitters Club series; P.S. Longer Letter Later) takes readers back to the era of the civil rights movement in the rural South to share the experiences of a poor white girl when her school becomes integrated. The author evokes the aura of hatred and fear permeating the small community of Coker Creek as skillfully as Belle Teal's empathy for her African-American classmate, Darryl. Martin sensitively captures the narrator's reactions to the events around her, such as when Belle Teal sees racist picketers outside of her school: "I feel my face grow warm, like I'm embarrassed, even though I haven't done anything." Besides feeling anger towards her insensitive classmates and their bigoted parents, the fifth-grade narrator resents a new rich girl named Vanessa (whom she dubs "HRH" for Her Royal Highness), who makes fun of the way she dresses. Yet the heroine learns some important lessons about not judging people by their appearances; she later learns a tragic secret that sheds some light on Vanessa. As well as capturing the climate of the early '60s, the author adroitly tackles timeless issues. Preteens will relate to Belle Teal, whose observations and realizations provide an eye-opening introduction to social and personal injustice. Ages 10-14. (Oct.)