Book reviews: The right timing and the right place

GETTING there is more than half the fun - with books as well as with travel. In three recent novels for young readers, the times and places visited are especially well drawn.

Borrowed Children, by George Ella Lyon (Orchard/Watts, New York, $12.95, 154 pages, ages 10 to 12), takes readers to the hollers of depression-era Kentucky, where the five Perritt kids tend one another while their father cuts timber on Big Lick Mountain and their mother cans and pickles, starches and irons. When a sixth baby is born, family responsibilities fall to the eldest, 12-year-old Mandy, who has to stay home from school to care for mother and new brother.

It sounds like heavy going, but author Lyon is adept at penning in those special moments, from blackberry picking to crafting Christmas ornaments, that make life in Goose Rock both difficult and good.

When Mandy is treated to a train trip to Memphis to visit her grandparents, it's those moments she recalls and that draw her home.

The environs of The Prisoner of Pineapple Place, by Anne Lindbergh (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, $12.95, 178 pages, ages 8 to 12), are more difficult to describe, but very intriguing.

First introduced six years ago in ``The People of Pineapple Place,'' the ``place'' of the title is a cobbled street of 10 old-fashioned brick houses, uprooted from Baltimore in 1939 and on the move ever since - invisibly.

The millionaire landlord, Mr. Sweeney, has miscalculated in his latest hocus-pocus move and landed the inhabitants of Pineapple Place in Athens, Conn., rather than in Greece.

It's a big letdown, especially for nine-year-old Jeremiah Jenkins, who feels like a prisoner to his surroundings. He's tired of being invisible, tired of moving, tired of 50 years of childhood.

The premise is a nifty one - that almost everything gets boring over time - and Lindbergh (daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh) pulls it off surprisingly well.

By the time Jeremiah crosses the line into the real world and makes a new, longed-for friend, the reader is won to his cause and cheers his every move.

The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, by Patricia MacLachlan (Harper & Row, New York, $11.95, ages 8 to 12), features a contemporary landscape that will be familiar to some readers, but probably foreign to most.

Eleven-year-old Minna Pratt, a cello player in a string quartet practicing for an important competition, inhabits a suburb bounded by musical allusions: ``One morning, early, the garbage men outside bang their way into the Hunt Quartet, causing Minna to sit straight up in bed, wide awake.''

As Minna waits for her long-overdue vibrato to arrive and falls in love with a violinist (who, thankfully, also happens to have a passion for frogs), there are enough whimsically discordant scenes to keep the story alive for readers who do not know a fugue from rosin.

Author MacLachlan is a favorite speaker at children's book gatherings. Her writing is jammed with the same vibrant humor that keeps adults rolling in the luncheon aisles. When she describes Minna's outrageously inept writer-mother and writes about a breakfast of ``scorched scrambled eggs and orange juice with frozen lumps that haven't dissolved,'' one assumes that the most entertaining details of Minna's family life are autobiographical.

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