cover image THE SOS FILE


Betsy Duffey, Laurie Myers, Betsy Cromer Byars, , illus. by Arthur Howard. . Holt, $15.95 (71pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6888-7

Newbery winner Byars and her two daughters, with whom she collaborated on My Dog, My Hero , offer a collection of fictional students' responses to their teacher's request for stories about times that they needed to call for help. Unfortunately, what emerges is a mishmash of a dozen tales, not all of them sticking to the theme. For instance, a boy whose parents are divorced and who considers himself a complete loser on the baseball field tells a tale that builds to a poignant moment when he hits the winning home run during the first game his father ever attended, but, as he writes in conclusion, "I didn't need an SOS after all." Other stories, in adhering to the childlike voice of the student "authors," detract from the momentum of the tale, such as an account of two girls' calamitous test ride on their homemade go-cart (after the narrator wipes out, injured, a kid claps—"This wasn't exactly the applause I was looking for"). The highlight is "Miracle on Main Street," in which a girl who was found as in infant in a dumpster recounts how she and her adoptive parents tracked down the man who rescued her. Though inconsistent, these anecdotal accounts—embellished by Howard's charcoal-and-wash illustrations, appropriately reflecting the mood of each piece—make for short takes that may well boost the confidence of reluctant readers. Ages 8-12. (May)