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Children's LiteratureSix-year-old Beansie (short for Bartholmew) is frightened. He has to find the cow wandering through the central Indiana forests and there are panthers, bears, perhaps even Indians, in the Indiana woods. He also has to avoid bullies and have his first experience with school in a three-month term starting in January. And, he has to figure out why his older sister is so intent on getting rid of her freckles. In telling this short story, Lawlor uses authentic expressions of 1826 (some of which are helpfully explained in a glossary), similes and metaphors that will seem fresh and apt to young readers, but a bit shopworn to those with more experience (i.e. "colder than a dog's nose;" "did not trust her as far as he could throw a bull by the tail;" "searching the snow like a dog sniffing out a trail"), and plenty of description. Descriptive detail of the forest, leaves, animals, ease in getting lost, loneliness of the settlers, and ways children participated in the family provide good background for Beanie's working out his problems. In addition, she has obviously researched the way settlers lived, what they ate, and how schools looked. While the gentle plot will not compel reluctant readers who would most likely be much older than the main character, those who persist would enjoy the setting. The truth of hardscrabble existence for early pioneers rings true as the six year old has to help with chores, hold up his end in not complaining, and learn quickly what behaviors work to make friends. In a nice twist, the timid Beansie is the one who keeps cool in a snowstorm and leads his sister to safety, not the competent bully who "knows the woods like the back of his hand." Ronald Himler's pencilillustrations reflect the action and the shape of the characters. But he seems reluctant to give the people much depth, except for two charming drawings of the troubled Beansie. This story fleshes out the time period for third or fourth graders studying early pioneers, but the vocabulary challenges most second graders for whom the story might have the most appeal. An author's note on sources and a glossary end the 80+ page novel. 2004, Holiday House, Ages 6 to 10.
—Susan Hepler, Ph.D.