Time-travel story reaches out to boys

BOOKS FOR KIDS

April 01, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Boys in the 8-to-12 age range are particularly hard to read when it comes to books, as anyone who knows one would agree.

Many reach a critical point -- somewhere between third and fifth grades -- when the light clicks on and they discover, on their own, the concept of reading for pleasure. Many others never find the switch.

Often it's just one book, or a series of books by the same author. So, before bar codes and debit cards drive public librarians to extinction, use them as a resource. They can tailor recommendations to fit each kid's interests and abilities.

One new book worth checking out for that audience is "Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story," by Mary Downing Hahn (Clarion, $13.95, 165 pages, ages 8-12).

Ms. Hahn, who lives in Columbia, has written a raft of acclaimed books. They include "Stepping on the Cracks," "December Stillness," "Daphne's Book," "The Doll in the Garden" and "The Wind Blows Backward," her first novel for older readers.

Like "The Doll in the Garden," "Time for Andrew" takes the main character back in time. In this case, 12-year-old Drew is staying with his great-aunt for the summer when he discovers a ghost in the attic of her ancient house.

The ghost -- a boy who looks exactly like him -- turns out to be Andrew Tyler, an ancestor of Drew's who lived in the house in the early 1900s.

Andrew has diphtheria. He persuades Drew to switch places with him so that Andrew, who is dying, can be treated by doctors in Drew's modern world.

The reversal works. Drew wakes up in 1910, in Andrew's bed. He doesn't know the members of Andrew's family at first, but they chalk that up to the fever. He's not the Andrew they knew before his illness -- Drew sometimes slips up and makes references to highways and rockets -- but they're just happy that he's alive.

Slowly, Drew becomes enmeshed in Andrew's world. Ms. Hahn makes readers care about the characters and their interrelationships, and it's fascinating to watch Drew draw close to Andrew's sister and brother. Drew is spooked, though, when his memories of the 1990s dim and the lines separating his life and Andrew's blur.

The boys strike a bargain. When Drew can beat Andrew at marbles, they will return to their correct times.

Drew struggles to learn the game. Andrew, convinced that it's his fate to die if he returns to 1910, beats him time and time again.

Still pretending to be Andrew, Drew does have a brush with death. There's plenty of suspense and a satisfying conclusion.

* Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, who lives in Pittsburgh, has written several books about her family's Baltimore roots, including "Chita's Christmas Tree" and "Aunt Flossie's Hats (And Crab Cakes Later)." Her latest is "Mac and Marie and the Train Toss Surprise," illustrated by Gail Gordon Carter (Four Winds Press, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7).

It is based on a true story about her father, John MacFarland "Mac" Fitzgerald, who grew up in a big,white house that faced the train tracks near Halethorpe.

In this story, set in the early 1900s, Mac is about 8. He loves to sit in the field behind the house and watch the trains that rumble between Baltimore and Washington. He dreams of being an engineer -- even though that job was closed to African-Americans.

On this night, Mac and his younger sister, Marie, are waiting for the Seaboard Florida Limited to roar by on its way north to New York. Their Uncle Clem, a college student, has gotten a summer job working in the dining car. In a letter, he tells Mac and Marie that he will toss a surprise from the train.

The story is taut with anticipation, and Ms. Carter's illustrations, in watercolors and colored pencil, are lovely as the wait stretches from the pinks and golds of sunset through the blues and purples of a summer twilight.

Finally, Mac and Marie hear the whistle:

The round light on the front of the engine grew larger and larger and brighter and brighter. The whistle grew louder. There was smoke and whirling sparks and the hissing of steam.

And the present, wrapped in a cocoon of white paper and tied with string, flies from the train and lands safely on the hillside.

* Mary Claire Helldorfer of Baltimore has added a picture book for the very young to her impressive list of titles, which includes "The Mapmaker's Daughter," "Sailing to the Sea," "Daniel's Gift," "Cabbage Rose" and "The Darling Boys."

Her new book is "Clap Clap!" illustrated by Sandra Speidel (Viking, $13.99, 32 pages, ages 2-7). It opens:

Clap Clap! The Lord unrolls the day.

Laugh -- he splashes water over sunny rocks.

And the book rolls through the day, dancing and laughing and leaping with three children as they relish the magic of creation. It would make a fine Easter present.

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