June 2002

Living on a wing and a prayer

By Rosemary Wells
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Rosemary Wells is famous for the comforting, cuddly characters Max and Ruby, two young rabbits who get in and out of all sorts of trouble. In Wingwalker, she covers more serious territory, telling a tale in which faith and an open mind weave magic, and things heretofore unimaginable are, in fact, possible.

Reuben is a second-grader in Ambler, Oklahoma, in the less-frantic era of the 1920s. At a county fair, he wins a ride in a bi-plane every young boy's dream. But the experience is so terrifying, the youngster vows never to ride in a plane again.

The air holds woe as well as wonder when the dust storms of the Depression rush through Reuben's hometown. Suddenly his father, a dance instructor, and mother, a cafe cook, are thrown out of work and, together with millions of other Americans, are forced adjust to their new circumstances. How the family manages through the tough times makes for an inspirational tale of friendship and courage. Reuben's father scours the want ads daily. When he can't find work close to home, he decides to expand the family's horizons and look elsewhere. An unusual advertisement beckons them to Minnesota, where the job of "wingwalker" with a traveling carnival awaits. Reuben and his mother both have doubts about dad's career choice, but they hope for the best as they sell off their possessions and load up the car. Part of the book's magic (not just in a figurative sense) comes from the carnival's characters: the fat man, the tattooed lady, the fire-eater and the human snake. All have lessons to teach Reuben as he struggles to overcome his worries and turn them around so that he, too, can join his father as a "wingwalker." Wells' easygoing, honest storytelling makes Wingwalker the type of book kids and their parents will enjoy reading together. Brian Selznick's illustrations are full of brown and golden hues, which remind one of the sepia tones of old family photographs. And Wingwalker warmly addresses a basic child's fantasy soaring high through the air, free as a bird. Ron Kaplan writes from Montclair, New Jersey.

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By Rosemary Wells
ISBN 9780786803972

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