cover image Down in the Piney Woods

Down in the Piney Woods

Ethel Footman Smothers. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $14 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-80360-7

This zesty first novel is chock-a-block with fresh, authentic language. Peppering the narrative are singsong teasing rhymes, which one senses the author herself chanted as a child. The outspoken heroine, Annie Rye, has a number of intertwined tales to tell. First, there's the trouble that starts when her three older half-sisters move in with her family. Then, when a bigoted white man and his children start sharecropping the nearby land, the family faces a different sort of vexation. Alongside these larger issues are a range of smaller pleasures and adventures: the arrival of the ``rolling store,'' a long-awaited possum hunt, a nearly disastrous invasion of poisonous snakes and the baseball game in which Annie Rye's father is a star pitcher. Footman's chronicle of a bit of bygone America has the sort of honesty and immediacy that put it in the same class as the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Sydney Taylor's All of a Kind Family series. Ages 10-14. (Feb.)