While No One Was Watching

While No One Was Watching

4.5 4
by Jane Leslie Conly

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On their own...
Frankie, Earl, and Angela aren't excited about spending the summer with Aunt Lula while their dad's away. But they have no idea just how bad it will be. When Lula disappears, the kids have no food, no money— and no one to take care of them.

Someone has to take charge. Since Earl is the oldest, he feels responsible.

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On their own...
Frankie, Earl, and Angela aren't excited about spending the summer with Aunt Lula while their dad's away. But they have no idea just how bad it will be. When Lula disappears, the kids have no food, no money— and no one to take care of them.

Someone has to take charge. Since Earl is the oldest, he feels responsible. His older cousin, Wayne, shows him how to steal bikes. It's a great way to make money, and Earl is desperate. But stealing bikes is not all Wayne does. And when he asks Earl to join him in a new money-making scheme, Earl is torn. It feels bad, but he needs the money. And no one is watching...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As in her previous novels, Conly (Crazy Lady; Trout Summer) once again explores vivid characters living on the fringe of society, this time taking the point of view of the misfits themselves. Earl, Frankie and Angela Foster are temporarily left in the care of their Aunt Lula while their widower father is away seeking work and housing. The novel's shift in perspectives among the three children give readers a well-rounded view of their destitute home life. As Lula's drinking escapades take her away for longer stretches, the children must fend for themselves, and the eldest sibling, Earl, falls under the influence of his 18-year-old cousin, Wayne. On one occasion, the pair steal bicycles from an affluent neighborhood and seven-year-old Frankie, tagging along, kidnaps a rabbit he finds in a hutch. The hunt for the rabbit by its owner leads to help for the Foster children, as well as the intervention in a near murder. By writing from the children's points of view, Conly achieves a riveting immediacy and a wistful sense of irony (as when Frankie recalls, "Lula said to watch out for trouble, and he tried to, but he wasn't always sure what trouble looked like"). Their situation is all the more poignant because of the children's ignorance of its severity. Readers will likely overlook the tidy wrap-up for the suspenseful plot and the fully rendered portrait of this memorable trio. Ages 10-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
When their widowed father finds work on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he places his three children, Earl, Frankie, and Angela, in the care of their Aunt Lula in Baltimore. Aunt Lula's delinquent son Wayne convinces Earl to help him steal bicycles. Younger brother Frankie accompanies them and decides to steal a pet rabbit from an outdoor hutch. When Addie discovers her pet is missing, she and her nerdy next-door neighbor Maynard take it upon themselves to find the rabbit. A chance encounter with Angela convinces Maynard that if he can locate Angela's house, he will find the rabbit. Without telling their parents, Maynard and Addie leave their comfortable neighborhood for the other side of the tracks. By now, Aunt Lula has abandoned the children and Wayne's crimes have become more serious. With the help of two fathers and a social worker, all ends well. Conly's characters are so well drawn they walk off the page and into the reader's heart. She wonderfully enables the reader to understand the various situations in which people find themselves. The lifestyles of the children are vividly contrasted in this fast-paced contemporary novel.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Frankie, Earl, and Angela are left with their Aunt Lula while their father goes to find work. When he doesn't return right away and Lula disappears, they must deal with the consequences of their mischief and band together to find the strength to await their father's return. By Jane Leslie Conly. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Horn Book Magazine
As she did in Crazy Lady, the author writes convincingly and un-sentimentally about the working-class poor in an urban setting. The three motherless Foster children are living with their well-meaning but unreliable aunt for the summer until their father can save enough money to send for them. Aunt Lulu, however, soon disappears on a drinking binge. Meanwhile, eleven-year-old Earl is being pressured by Lulu's teenage son Wayne into stealing bicycles. Earl complies, first out of fear of his cousin and then because he and his younger siblings need the money for food. Frankie and Angela, at seven and six, are close in age but very different in temperament. Strong-spirited and a fighter, Angela creates an imaginary world to make life palatable, while timid Frankie, starving for affection, impulsively steals a pet rabbit encountered on one of Wayne and Earl's bike raids. And here the novel introduces characters from a very different part of the city. Addie, the rabbit's owner, and Maynard, her next-door neighbor, live in an exclusive walled-off enclave that could be another world entirely. Although the story is told from the point of view of all five children, the narrative never seems confused or choppy. Maynard and Addie's search for her pet drives the plot and brings home to the reader the dramatic contrast between the lives of these two groups of children from different social strata. Maynard can't eat at McDonald's because his father disapproves of fast food; Angela spoons up grape jelly for breakfast. Addie's carefully circumscribed life is "as easy and comfortable as her own flesh." Frankie misses the stability of kindergarten, where the clock on the wall told them what to do. "It never broke, day after day, and when the hands were in a certain place they had snack, and later, lunch, and naptime." Now there's no one to watch them, and a sense that things are out of control. Maynard and Addie's persistence brings about a happy ending, and a warning as well. On the bus to meet their father, Earl looks forward to the reunion, but he is angry, too. "When he and Frankie and Angela tried to keep things going, where had Daddy been?" A tough and compelling survival story for children, this is also a cautionary tale for adults: when adults aren't watching, children are vulnerable.
Kirkus Reviews
A stolen rabbit connects three neglected children and a pair of young sleuths in this busy, overpopulated story from Conly (Crazy Lady, 1993, etc.). Bad-news cousin Wayne leads Earl Foster, 11, and his learning-disabled brother, Frankie, into an affluent neighborhood on another bike-stealing expedition; Frankie carries away a pet rabbit, instead sneaking it into the house where he and his siblings live with Aunt Lula until their father, laid-off, can get back on his feet. Addie, the rabbit's devastated owner, gets little help from police, but finds an unexpected ally in her neighbor, Maynard, a lonely adopted classmate born in India. While the two are gathering clues, Aunt Lula vanishes, leaving Earl to care for his two siblings as best he can. Conly develops her story at a deliberate pace, splitting the point-of-view among no fewer than five characters. Angela, a bedwetter with a broken yardstick for a magic wand and an unfettered imagination, makes the rest of the cast seem generic; a pivotal scene is farfetched at best, and a wonderfully tidy resolution that finds Addie with her rabbit, the Fosters with their father, and Wayne in jail is equally contrived. The book is readable, but the capable Conly uses artifice to bring the plotlines together, and the Fosters are not as memorable as the abandoned children in Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming (1981) or Jackie Koller's A Place to Call Home (1995) (Fiction. 11-13)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.48(d)
520L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

They found the yard when Wayne was collecting bicycles. Frankie followed his brother Earl just like he was supposed to, and Earl followed Wayne, who was his cousin, and a bit older. Sometimes Wayne let Earl ride a bike, if they found more than one. Then Frankie would run alongside, saying, "Let me have a turn!" Wayne never gave him a turn, because Frankie didn't have good balance for his age, so he hadn't learned to ride a two-wheeler. He could ride a Big-Wheels, but Wayne never got Big-Wheels, even though Frankie asked him to. All Wayne answered was, "If you don't do what I say, Fat Frankie, you'll have to stay home by yourself."

Frankie didn't like staying in the house by himself, and the big boys weren't supposed to leave him there either, but they sometimes did. They said Frankie couldn't run fast enough to keep up, and that he whined like a baby, like Angela. He tried not to whine, but sometimes he couldn't help it. They walked so far, and they forgot about eating lunch and going to the bathroom and resting. Once Frankie made the mistake of saying he wished kindergarten went through the summer. Wayne and Earl laughed and said he was a dork. But Frankie couldn't help remembering the big round clock on the classroom wall. It never broke, day after day, and when the hands were in a certain place they had snack, and later, lunch, and naptime. Mrs. Chase played music during naptime. Frankie had heard there would be no music in first grade.

"Frankie, hurry!" Earl said over his shoulder. "And shut up!" Frankie sighed. He liked to sing, but he couldn't rush and sing at the same time. And thebig boys were always rushing. They had a thousand places to go.

The summer had started better. They had stayed near Aunt Lula's, hanging with other kids in front of Mr. Kim's store. Frankie had sat on the steps of Lula's brick rowhouse. Lula said to watch out for trouble, and he tried to, but he wasn't always sure what trouble looked like. Once he'd seen a man and woman arguing in front of their car; the man had pulled a gun out of his coat pocket. Another day the police had come around the corner with their sirens blaring. He'd seen a dog pee on Lula's flowers right in front of the house while the woman who held the leash stood there watching. Earl had been in the store getting a pack of gum, but Frankie told him about it later. Earl rolled his eyes. "That's nothing, Fat Frankie," he explained. "A gun is trouble. A dog peeing is nothing." Frankie decided to tell Lula anyway. But she was tired when she got home from her job at the laundry. She drank beer while she made supper, and afterwards she fell asleep at the table. Then Frankie and Earl and their six-year-old sister Angela talked. Angela was a liar.

"Lula said I can have the rest of the mashed potatoes ‘cause I went on a trip today," she announced.

Frankie thought for once she might be telling the truth. "Where did you go?"

"To Hollywood." Angela reached for the bowl. "I bought a bowl of sugar. Then I took the train back to daycamp. Miss Cathy was so glad to see me she gave me a gold medal."

"You can't have all those potatoes," Earl said. "You'll get fat, too."

"I will not! Miss Cathy says I look just like a girl on TV."

"Hulk Hogan's sister, maybe." Earl took the bowl back. He gave a spoonful of potatoes to Angela and one to himself.

"I'm hungry," Frankie whined.

"There's some on your plate already."

Frankie ate as fast as he could, so there'd be potatoes left in the bowl when his were gone. The potato in his mouth was so packed he couldn't swallow. He took a drink of milk to loosen it up, but there wasn't room for the milk and most of it ran down his chin. "Daddy ubed da make graby," he said.

Angela stared at him. "Frankie can speak French," she told Earl.

"Frankie can't speak French. He's got so much food in his mouth he can't talk at all."

Frankie swallowed three times. "Daddy used to make gravy," he said.

"Daddy's in Honolulu." That was Angela.

"He is not. He's on the Eastern Shore, picking vegetables. Beth-ann saw him there, didn't she, Earl?"

Earl shrugged. Frankie saw he'd learned a trick from Wayne. He could close his face the way you pulled the shade down on a window. Then there was just his stringy red hair and a white blank like a wall underneath it. "I don't know," he said.

"She did see him!" And we've got his letters – one every Saturday. You had them under your pillow."

Earl shrugged again. Lula stirred in her sleep. Frankie wondered if she would wake up and ask about Wayne. If she asked, he was supposed to lie, because she didn't want them playing with Wayne, even though he was her own son. He lived with his father now, and Lula claimed she didn't want to know where he went or what he did. Wayne didn't want her to know, either. He had threatened Frankie, saying, "If you tell, I'll cut your throat." Frankie could imagine how much it would hurt to have your throat cut. Wayne might do it, too, if he told. Wayne had killed a cat with his bare hands. Even Earl was afraid of Wayne, and Earl was eleven.

"Come on, Frankie," Earl called. "You have to keep up."

"I'm trying." Frankie walked a little faster. They had passed Grover Park and crossed the boulevard. So far Wayne hadn't found any bikes. But he didn't seem to be looking hard, not yet. That morning he'd said he had a new place to look.

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Meet the Author

Jane Leslie Conly's first novel, Rasco and the Rats of NIMH,an ALA Booklist Children's Editors Choice, and its sequel, R-T, Margaret and the Rats of NIMH,were included on a multitude of state library masterlists. She is also the author of the critically acclaimed Trout Summer (an ALA Notable Children’s Book and Best Book for Young Adults) and the Newbery Honor Book Crazy Lady! She lives in Baltimore, MD.

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