cover image Ernestine & Amanda

Ernestine & Amanda

Sandra Belton. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80848-7

Amanda adores piano lessons at Miss Elder's house. It's only Ernestine, another piano student, whom she can't stand. For her part, Ernestine thinks Amanda is stuck-up and mean. Neither girl, however, understands that her ""enemy"" is struggling with a private problem: Ernestine is ashamed of being overweight, and Amanda worries, with good reason, about her parents' marriage. Belton's (From Miss Ida's Porch) picturesque novel delicately details the prickly relations between two 10-year-old African American girls during the 1950s. Each girl tells in alternate chapters the story of their conflict, focusing on a piano competition whose winner gets to play for the noted visiting pianist Miss Camille Nickerson. That Miss Nickerson has earned her reputation for recording African Creole music from her childhood in Louisiana allows Belton to explore, unobtrusively and easily, Ernestine and Amanda's own pride in their African American heritage. Lots of texture and perceptive writing (when Amanda finds out her parents are separating, she confides, ""I could feel the freezing little feet coming across my shoulders and down into my chest"") make this a winner, and readers will be glad to know that Belton is working on another book about Ernestine and Amanda. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)