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Grade 2–4—Bunting addresses the complicated relations in Northern Ireland. Narrated by Allison, a Catholic, the story effectively captures the child's trepidation and confusion, particularly as she has learned that a favorite uncle has committed violent acts. A Protestant girl's act of kindness during her frightening walk to school leads her to conclude, "I think we could be friends…. If the grownups would let us." The book does an excellent job of presenting the situation from a child's perspective without demonizing either side, but adults sharing it must be prepared for the inevitable questions as to why such tensions exist, as no background or history is presented in either the story itself or the author's note. Dooling's oil-on-canvas illustrations are realistic enough to resemble stills from documentary footage. Little on this situation is available for children, but do be prepared for those questions.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
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Walking a gauntlet of Protestant hecklers to her new school is scary for Allison, a Catholic child in Northern Ireland. Worse, she worries that the uncle who accompanies her enjoys the violence. In spite of the mob and confusion, she and a young bystander make a connection: “I think we could be friends. . . . If the grownups would let us.” This picture book for older readers is beautifully depicts the centuries-old friction between Catholics and Protestants, which, as late as 2001, affected schoolchildren. Dooling’s oil-on-canvas paintings, reminiscent of Norman Rockwell but with an underlying tension, are beautifully reproduced on large-scale, double-page spreads, and the dark palette reinforces the story’s themes of struggle. An afterword briefly summarizes the historical background. This is a poignant reminder that first days of school are not always a cause for celebration, and teachers may want to connect this title with titles such as Eileen Lucas’ Cracking the Wall (1998) about the Little Rock Nine. The book closes with an additional plea for peace. Grades 2-4. --Kathleen IsaacsSee all Editorial Reviews