cover image The Year of the Ranch

The Year of the Ranch

Alice McLerran. Viking Children's Books, $14.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85131-7

As she so eloquently did in Roxaboxen, McLerran once more immortalizes a piece of land in the Southwest by describing a family's emotional attachment to it. Papa's dream of becoming a mesa homesteader in 1919 spurs him to curtail his office job and move his wife and four young daughters to a shack in the desert. While the girls fret about the lack of indoor plumbing, frequent visits from scorpions and tarantulas and the all-around difficult conditions, Papa encourages them with his wonderful vision: ""The desert shall blossom as the rose,"" he says. ""Someday... this whole valley will be a garden."" Though they all gamely try to adjust, in the end even Papa realizes he'd be better off selling his land and moving back to town. McLerran's sense of family dynamics rings true and her characters exhibit just the right amount of agitation and concern without becoming whiny. Mama's and the girls' support of Papa and their efforts to understand him are a stirring testament to strong love. Root's (Hugh Can Do) watercolors capture the vibrant and ever-changing palette of bright stars and sumptuous sunsets found in the desert landscape. Her scenes of characters pumping water, playing tennis or battening down against a sandstorm evoke a warm togetherness. An author's note contains anecdotes that place the story in both a historical and personal context. Ages 3-8. (June)