cover image When I Was Nine

When I Was Nine

James Stevenson. Greenwillow Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-05942-2

Stevenson (Are We Almost There?, Worse than Willy!, etc.) departs from his usual hilarity in this reminiscence of one special summer. With luminous watercolors and spare language, he carefully distills an American childhood in the '30s. Climbing trees, ice-skating on a frozen pond, playing ball, listening to the radio and even publishing his own ""Neighborhood News'' filled his days. In the summer of '39, the family ``packed the car for a trip out west.'' They visited a cave in Missouri, saw the Northern Lights and, best of all, stayed on a ranch in New Mexico. For his birthday, ``My parents bought me exactly what I always wanted . . . a cowboy hat.'' When they returned home, ``everything looked just the way it always had . . . except maybe a little smaller . . . I wasn't nine anymore.'' Perfect for family sharing and a bittersweet treat for Stevenson's fans, When I Was Nine will be read and reread with pleasure. (58)