cover image Elsa, Star of the Shelter!

Elsa, Star of the Shelter!

Jacqueline Wilson. Albert Whitman & Company, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8075-1981-3

A far cry from traditional middle-grade fiction, this British import is an eye-opening but long-winded account of life in a dingy shelter hotel. Elsa, an aspiring performer who sprinkles her narrative with an overly generous supply of jokes and puns, does her best to maintain an upbeat perspective on her family's dismal existence. But her chirpy banter hardly hides the dark shadow cast by her short-tempered and abusive stepfather. Elsa's tearful mother, who spends a good deal of time tending to her two younger children, does little to stop Mack from beating Elsa. But Elsa finally has her long-awaited moment in the spotlight when she alerts the hotel's other residents to a fire that has broken out in a communal kitchen. This triumph-and the family's move to a decent hotel-bring Wilson's stinging story to a relatively happy close, though there's no promise for a brighter future for Elsa. Occasional footnotes explaining Britishisms (""I say nappy, you say diaper"") help adapt this work for an American audience, but many readers will still find it slow going. Ages 8-11. (Jan.)