by kimberly brubaker Bradley
144 pp., $15.95
Young readers today might not feel they have much in common with a young girl living in a small Midwestern town during World War I - and that is exactly what Mallie would want.
To everyone in town, Mallie is only the second half of "Hallie and Mallie," but "One-of-a-Kind Mallie" wants to be called Matilda, wear bright red, and be set apart by more than her twin sister's chipped tooth.
In this poignant and charming historical novel, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley brings to life a likably real heroine and a town that would seem commonplace but, as we learn, is actually one of a kind.
Mallie's family and neighbors have joined together to support the war: Farmers produce extra food, women and girls join knitting circles to make socks and scarves for the brave soldiers fighting overseas, and men serve in the Home Guard if they can't join the Army or Navy.
When Gypsies set up camp near one farmer's property, the locals feel nervous because, as the author candidly portrays, they occasionally steal from chicken coops or the general store. But the Gypsies enchant and inspire Mallie with their colorful blouses, exotic language, and lively music.
She's eager to find people who don't fit the mold. She listens carefully to rumors about the mail-order bride who refuses to join the Red Cross. Mrs. Jenkins encourages her to develop a secret hobby that eventually convinces Mallie's mother and sister to appreciate her uniqueness.
Despite Mallie's wishes to be one of a kind, most readers will identify with her struggles and find comfort in the affectionate but realistic portrayal of a family and community. Mallie's new friends will want to read Bradley's first book, "Ruthie's Gift," to return to small-town Cedarville, Ind., and the characters they've come to know and love.
*Enicia Fisher taught children's literature at Principia College in Elsah, Ill.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society