From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–Since his father's death seven years ago, Grady, now 12, has followed his footloose, attractive mom, Lila, from one shaky living situation to another, staying put only until her optimism turns to anger over some affront. Feeling her work at the Sunward Path commune is underappreciated, she and Grady are heading for New York when their junker car breaks down in rural Pennsylvania. As usual, Mom lands on her feet, accepting a position cooking for cranky widower Charlie Fernwald, a retired farmer who is, in Grady's opinion, nutty about purple martins–not martians as Grady at first believes. The elderly man is willing to take them on temporarily to fool his son into believing that he's being properly looked after. Lila is willing to play this charade, while slipping healthful veggies into Charlie's diet in hopes of winning him over to obtain a more permanent position. Grady appreciates his host's willingness to teach him about cars, but steadfastly refuses to go to school, secretly releases invasive house sparrows from Charlie's trap, and worries about keeping his mom from becoming romantically involved with the local mechanic. While there is nothing terribly original in a lonely boy and a cranky elderly man overcoming differences to find common ground, Grady, Charlie, and Lila have sharp edges that reveal their individual personalities. Their emotions are heartfelt, and readers will be encouraged by the hopeful, upbeat ending. Nicely integrated plugs for both Katherine Paterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins
(HarperCollins, 1978) and the Web site of the National Purple Martin Association are woven into this simple, satisfying story.–Joel Shoemaker, Southeast Junior High School, Iowa City, IA
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Gr. 4-7. Since his father died, 12-year-old Grady and his mom, Lila, have lived in a lot of dead-end places, none of them worth being called "home." But maybe Charlie Fernwald's Pennsylvania farm, where Lila has been hired to cook for the 85-year-old farmer, mechanic, and purple martin enthusiast, will be different. Maybe. But Grady makes a terrible mistake. Auch's story of the slowly developing friendship between a lonely boy and an elderly man whose passion for birds has sustained him through the death of his wife is engaging, though a tad predictable. What will attract readers like martins to a gourd nest is the author's careful integration of bird lore and the unusual challenges of creating and maintaining a purple martin colony. A good book for reluctant boy readers. Michael CartCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved