cover image Uncle James

Uncle James

Marc Harshman. Dutton Books, $13.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-65110-9

Harshman and Dooling apply a thick coating of sentimentality to a host of painful issues--mourning, poverty and alcoholism among them. The narrator, a boy, describes how hard times have visited his family since his father died. He's quit school to help Mom, and his sisters may have to follow suit--unless Uncle James, their mother's brother, keeps his promises to pitch in and send money. Uncle James writes rousing letters of his exploits out west, but when he arrives, months later, he is penniless and alcoholic, more in need of help than able to give it. Mom gently chastises her children for their inevitable anger at Uncle James, then sets about drying him out (``How Mom did it, I don't know, but she did. There have been a lot of long talks at night, about our grandparents and lots of things I don't really understand''). Dooling's faux-Rockwell paintings offer souped-up portrayals of each character--Mom anguishing over her brother, the children enraptured by Uncle James's letters; Uncle James bowing his head in shame. Overambitious and overdone. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)