Belle Teal

Belle Teal

4.6 27
by Ann M. Martin
     
 

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Set in a small rural community of the 1960's, it tells the powerful story of a strong-willed girl who grapples with poverty, her grandmother's illness, and the integration of her all-white school.See more details below

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Overview

Set in a small rural community of the 1960's, it tells the powerful story of a strong-willed girl who grapples with poverty, her grandmother's illness, and the integration of her all-white school.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this honest and moving novel, Martin (the Baby-Sitters Club series; P.S. Longer Letter Later) takes readers back to the era of the civil rights movement in the rural South to share the experiences of a poor white girl when her school becomes integrated. The author evokes the aura of hatred and fear permeating the small community of Coker Creek as skillfully as Belle Teal's empathy for her African-American classmate, Darryl. Martin sensitively captures the narrator's reactions to the events around her, such as when Belle Teal sees racist picketers outside of her school: "I feel my face grow warm, like I'm embarrassed, even though I haven't done anything." Besides feeling anger towards her insensitive classmates and their bigoted parents, the fifth-grade narrator resents a new rich girl named Vanessa (whom she dubs "HRH" for Her Royal Highness), who makes fun of the way she dresses. Yet the heroine learns some important lessons about not judging people by their appearances; she later learns a tragic secret that sheds some light on Vanessa. As well as capturing the climate of the early '60s, the author adroitly tackles timeless issues. Preteens will relate to Belle Teal, whose observations and realizations provide an eye-opening introduction to social and personal injustice. Ages 10-14. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Set in the South—maybe the Ozarks—during the early 1960s, this is the story of the changes that come upon ten-year-old Belle Teal Harper in the course of fifth grade. Dirt poor and living with her Gran and widowed mother, Belle first has to come to terms with the changes in her beloved grandmother as senility sets in. Her next challenge is dealing with the court-imposed integration of her school. Belle is far from a bigot. She has, in fact, the mindset of an adult liberal forty years in the future. Soon she has taken their class's token black boy, Darryl, under her wing and with her best friend Clarice, sets out to make her classmates welcome Darryl as well. It's a hard row to hoe amidst constant browbeating and occasional threats of violence. The ending is promising, even though an abused white boy falls through the cracks along the way. Martin's book is nicely written, and Belle's voice is vivid, even if she does seem too good to be true. 2001, Scholastic, $15.95. Ages 10 to 14. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr
VOYA
Belle Teal might not have much—she starts fifth grade with her fourth grade best dress—but she does not allow herself to feel impoverished. She has family, friends, and the capacity to enjoy and reflect on each moment and to anticipate wonder. In short, she could be a little too good to be true, but her outlook is challenged continually by some pretty serious issues. Her story includes a single-parent household, financial struggles, racism, child abuse, and the worry about her beloved Gran's forgetfulness. Belle Teal manages to balance her growing awareness that things—and people—are not always what they seem with her joy in the holidays, her stylish new teacher, a starring role in the school pageant, and family gatherings. A drama unfolds as Belle Teal and her best friend, Clarice, befriend Darryl, the new African American boy in class, a shy child who through his new friends, finds the courage to face the animosity and fear that desegregation brings. Then there is "HRH" Vanessa, whose perfect clothes, hair, and privileged attitude are the bane of Belle Teal's days, until Belle makes a surprising discovery. Martin's message—that it is awfully difficult to walk a mile in another's shoes, but one must try, and that it is only through one-on-one relationships that real change begins—are important ones for Belle Teal and for all readers. Martin offers a coming-of-age story with a spunky young heroine who is caught between the daily life of a rural school child and the shattering changes that the early stirrings of the Civil Rights movement bring to her small town. VOYA CODES:3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects;Will appeal with pushing;Middle School,defined as grades 6 to 8;Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Scholastic, 224p, $15.95. Ages 11 to 15. Reviewer:Mary Arnold—VOYA, December 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 5)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-Belle Teal begins fifth grade in the early `60s in the rural South with only one cloud on the horizon, her beloved grandmother's increasing forgetfulness. However, school turns out to be much more complicated this year as a result of the desegregation that brings in three African-American children, one of them to Belle's classroom. Students and parents are divided on this issue, and the conflicts are expressed in various hurtful and potentially dangerous ways. Other strands in the plot involve the Christmas pageant, a snooty new girl, and a classmate who is being physically abused by his father. Martin smoothly juggles these elements, moving the story along gracefully with a first-person, present-tense narration. The ending emphasizes the strength Belle finds with the women of her family and shows a simple acceptance of life's difficulties, an approach that shows respect for young readers. Some of the characters, including Belle herself, occasionally seem a bit too good to be true, and many kids may admire the protagonist rather than really relate to her. However, this doesn't significantly get in the way of the book's considerable child appeal and heart. Overall, while not especially profound or literary, this is a solid piece of work with an absorbing plot.-Lauralyn Persson, Wilmette Public Library, IL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A young white girl witnesses the integration of her public school in the early 1960s South. Belle Teal and her best friend Clarice have been looking forward to the fifth grade for years, ever since the lovely and kind Miss Casey began teaching it. This year is remarkable not only for Miss Casey, however, but for the arrival of Darryl and two other African-American students, the first the school has ever seen. Belle Teal, a spunky, generous girl who copes at home with a loving but feckless mother and a beloved but increasingly senile grandmother, finds herself caught in the middle of the integration conflict, as she must balance her old friendship with the bigoted Little Boss against her new friendship with Darryl. Belle Teal's first-person voice is pleasing and genuine, and period details are well rendered (Clarice's family's TV helps to locate the text in time, drawing a connection over 40 years from Belle Teal to 21st-century child readers). And although there is a lot going on here, what with Little Boss's family tensions, the snooty newcomer Vanessa (whom Belle Teal refers to as "HRH"), and Belle Teal's anxiety over the changes in her grandmother's capabilities in addition to the central integration plot, Martin (The Doll People, 2000, etc.) does a creditable job of keeping all the narrative balls in the air. While readers might question the conveniently enlightened racial attitudes of both Belle Teal's and Clarice's families and the ease with which the girls begin a friendship with the besieged Darryl, this good-hearted and well-paced story moves them past these concerns into a genuinely moving tale about the necessity to reach out to others, even when it is difficult. (Fiction.8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780439771269
Publisher:
Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
05/16/2005
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.52(h) x 0.58(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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