Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Wendy Halperin

This story is written in the tradition of friend and school stories of an earlier era. Set in the Depression, ten-year-old Allie's family has just moved into a new house, thanks to her father finally getting a job. She starts to make friends with Martha next door, but soon discovers she isn't the perfect best friend. At first confused and embarrassed by Mimi across the street, Allie finally comes to realize she is more "interesting" and trustworthy than Martha. Small touches throughout the book place it in the Depression era - a hobo at the door, Shirley Temple, tap-dance class, and the various financial difficulties of Allie's friends' families. There is also a minor theme of religious difference and prejudice - Allie and Mimi are Jewish, Allie. M. (Allie's new friend at school), Martha and her unpleasant friend Cynthia are Catholic. But there's no stereotyping and the characters are not one-dimensional types.

The story is pleasant and flows well, showing Ms. Hoberman's mastery of words. Allie's thoughts and feelings are well-expressed and the story is a pleasant, light read. The ending is not completely resolved but the depiction of Depression-era problems and issues is realistic and not excessively preachy.

However, I am having a hard time coming up with an audience for this book. It is being promoted to ages 8 - 12, but I find it difficult to think of any tweens who would pick this up. Compared to her modern sisters, such as Judy Moody and Allie Finkle, Allie Sherman is bland and sedate. Just as Gardam rewrote the holiday family adventure genre of Elizabeth Enright, Ms. Hoberman has rewritten the school and friendship genre of the Moffats and other similar stories from the time period. Fans of Lenski's Strawberry Girl, Fisher's Understood Betsy, and Estes' Moffats and Hundred Dresses may find this an additional and enjoyable read, but it doesn't have the staying qualities of a classic.

Verdict: Families looking for a peaceful read-aloud at bedtime may enjoy this.

ISBN: 031604136X; Published July 2009 by Little Brown; ARC provided by publisher for review (illustrations not available for review)

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