Rosemary Wells, , illus. by Brian Selznick. . Hyperion, $15.99 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0397-2
Studded with Selznick's evocative illustrations, Wells's affecting chapter book opens in 1933, when the young narrator wins an airplane ride with a stunt pilot at the Oklahoma Air Races. Reuben is terrified, but his airplane-mad father can't see it: "I saw pride shining in his eyes like stars," Reuben observes. "If I did not go, I would forever cut a little diamond shape of disappointment out of my father's heart." After the dreaded wild ride, Reuben swears he will never go higher than his attic window. But Reuben's sights are to be radically expanded. When dust storms turn the green prairies "the color of meal crackers," Reuben's parents lose their jobs. His father, answering an ad for a "wingwalker" who "must be brave and light on the feet" (the job entails standing on the wing of a plane as it circles above paying onlookers), moves the family to join a carnival in Minnesota. In a voice at once ingenuous and wise, Reuben relays his mutually enriching encounters with the kind carnival performers, who help him soar, literally and figuratively. Rendered in a muted palette, the art has a quiet gravity, whether showing Hopper-like streets of small towns or even people queuing at carnival attractions, their eyes averted or hidden from the viewer. The final spread has all the more power for its contrast: sunlight illuminates a cloudy sky as the hero, finally, takes wing. Ages 7-10.
Reviewed on: 03/25/2002