From Publishers Weekly
Studded with Selznick's evocative illustrations, Wells's affecting chapter book opens in 1933, when the young narrator wins an airplane ride with a stunt pilot at the Oklahoma Air Races. Reuben is terrified, but his airplane-mad father can't see it: "I saw pride shining in his eyes like stars," Reuben observes. "If I did not go, I would forever cut a little diamond shape of disappointment out of my father's heart." After the dreaded wild ride, Reuben swears he will never go higher than his attic window. But Reuben's sights are to be radically expanded. When dust storms turn the green prairies "the color of meal crackers," Reuben's parents lose their jobs. His father, answering an ad for a "wingwalker" who "must be brave and light on the feet" (the job entails standing on the wing of a plane as it circles above paying onlookers), moves the family to join a carnival in Minnesota. In a voice at once ingenuous and wise, Reuben relays his mutually enriching encounters with the kind carnival performers, who help him soar, literally and figuratively. Rendered in a muted palette, the art has a quiet gravity, whether showing Hopper-like streets of small towns or even people queuing at carnival attractions, their eyes averted or hidden from the viewer. The final spread has all the more power for its contrast: sunlight illuminates a cloudy sky as the hero, finally, takes wing. Ages 7-10.
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-6-In this deceptively slim, slice-of-life chapter book, the narrator recounts a pivotal childhood summer. Reuben is a carefree second grader living in rural Oklahoma with his mother, a caf cook, and his father, a dance instructor, when the Depression and Dust Bowl end the family's stable, quiet way of life. Desperate for work, the boy's father takes a job as an airplane wingwalker in a Minnesota traveling carnival. Reuben's retelling of the dramatic events is subtle and matter-of-fact, filled with the small, everyday details that color memories and help readers to see life through his eyes. Although some youngsters may need historical background to understand the family's experiences, they will relate to Reuben's feelings, and to the timeless themes-coping with teasing, peer pressure, unwelcome change, and overcoming one's fears. The carnival workers are portrayed with dignity and humor. Filled with muted earth tones and hinting of folk art, Selznick's striking, bordered paintings create an evocative portrait of the era, and aptly complement the quality text. Even the endpapers reflect the period, resembling popular wallpaper patterns of the '30s. An engaging story, and a well-crafted, thoroughly enjoyable book.
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Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI
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