cover image Corduroy at the Zoo

Corduroy at the Zoo

Don Freeman, B. G. Hennessy. Viking Children's Books, $11.99 (20pp) ISBN 978-0-670-89288-4

Emily and her family have moved to a grand old Victorian house in a new neighborhood, much to the girl's relief. Plastic surgery has repaired terrible scars on Emily's face and she has the entire summer to prepare for a fresh start in her first year of high school. She begins a tentative friendship with Rowan Tucker, a neighbor girl who uses Emily's backyard tree house as an art studio and as a refuge from her strict and controlling father. Something is terribly wrong in the Tucker home, but the particulars are only hinted at. This less-is-more style of storytelling creates all-too-realistic suspense and makes Rowan's father an even more chilling figure: Thesman (Calling the Swan) conveys his nastiness via the muffled sounds of nighttime arguments and Rowan's offhand comment that when she cleans house ""those vacuum cleaner marks have to line straight up with the walls. That's how Dad likes them."" The author gracefully shows each girl learning something from the other: Emily's basically cheery take on adolescence and her warm family life open Rowan's eyes to new approaches, while Rowan's imaginative ways awaken Emily's curiosity and gently urge her to stretch her artistic muscles. Refreshingly, this story allows issues to be resolved through indirection, intimation and example, rather than via revelatory confessions or high-intensity confrontations. Familiar and comforting details of everyday life (e.g., raising a pair of foundling puppies, decorating the tree house, experimenting with make-up and hairstyles) provide a backdrop to the girls' larger emotional journeys. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)